Keeping Heart Healthy

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Photo: Jodi Matsuo

Native Hawaiians have the highest occurrence of heart disease compared to other ethnic groups in Hawaiʻi. Taking care of your heart can help to prevent early disability and years of life lost that could have been spent with your ʻohana and doing other things you enjoy.

Knowing whether you are at risk is the first step you can take towards preventing heart disease. Get regular check-ups with your doctor and have her/him determine your risk by checking your blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight and whether other testing is needed. If you are at risk for heart disease, your doctor may choose to prescribe medications and recommend lifestyle changes.

At the same time, take a realistic assessment of how you are eating and see what may need to be changed. A recent study compared the effect of different foods in terms of heart disease risk, and organized the foods into the following categories (see chart below).

Another personal habit to consider is how well you are managing your stress. Signs of stress include depression, anxiety, irritability, trouble sleeping, worry, and difficulties with memory. If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor. Consider taking up a hobby, sport, tai chi, or just some time off work.

Are you getting regular physical exercise? If not, start by taking a walk. Choose a time of day that works best for you. It could be early in the morning, during a lunch break, or late afternoon. Start with 10 minutes per day and work your way up to 30 minutes.

If you are still thinking about whether you should quit smoking, now is a good time as any. Focus on the benefits of quitting and visualize your success in doing so. Take steps to manage your stress. Enlist a family member or friend to workout with. Your doctor may have other suggestions as well.

You can do it! Take charge of your heart and your health.


Born and raised in Kona, Hawaiʻi, Dr. Jodi Leslie Matsuo is a Native Hawaiian Registered Dietician and certified diabetes educator, with training in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Follow her on Facebook (@DrJodiLeslieMatsuo), Instagram (@drlesliematsuo) and on Twitter (@DrLeslieMatsuo).