THE PUMPHOUSE PLAN
We're not asking you to eBay your gear and take up shuffleboard, of course. Cardiovascular exercise will always play a part in heart health. The risks mount, however, when you ignore the other elements of the equation: diet and genes. They can put your ticker on the fritz. David Cannom, a cardiologist at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles who specializes in athletes with heart disease, says, "The vast majority of coronary failures are preventable if you know what to expect."
»THE MEAL DEAL
Take a survey of what you eat, then slash from the list those foods that are high in LDL cholesterol, which cardiologists have increasingly linked to sudden cardiac death. "Five years ago, we considered an LDL cholesterol count of 110 safe," says Cannom. "Now we want to see it around 70." To lower that number naturally, adopt a nutrition program that's low in saturated fats (see "Heart Smarts," next page).
A history of heart disease among your immediate relatives effectively doubles your chances of dying suddenly and can lump you into the same risk group as smokers and those with high blood pressure. Ed Burke's family, for example, had a history of bad hearts. His parents had each suffered a coronary, and two of his brothers had undergone bypass surgery.
»LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
If you suffer from indigestion, lightheadedness, blackouts, or abnormalities in your heart rateespecially during exercisesee your doctor. You may be in need of a maximal treadmill stress test, which will reveal any reduced flow in the arteries. If you pass the exam but the symptoms persist, you should submit to more-invasive testingnamely, catheterization, which allows a doc to peer inside the coronary arteries, thus improving the chances of catching a potentially fatal problem in time for countermeasures, such as a regimen of cholesterol-lowering drugs, like Zocor or Lipitor, or beta-blockers, which prevent the heart from overexerting. Extreme cases may call for cleaning the clogged artery, inserting a stent to prop it open, or performing a bypass.
Following all three components of the plan should keep your pipes clean for years. "Avoiding a heart attack is like investing in the stock market," says Paul Thompson. "You keep paying into it day by day for a long-term gain."