A healthy heart takes work | COMMENTARY

By Dr. Joshua Buckler, MD

Taking steps to improve our health is easy to put off: we don’t feel urgency, we don’t see the need, we feel fine right now. But consider that every 40 seconds, a U.S. citizen dies from heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular disease.

In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for one in every four deaths nationwide.

With February as Heart Health Awareness Month, it’s a great time to learn about cardiovascular health and take steps to improve your risk.

To help my patients be heart smart, I tell them to remember three main things:

1) Know your numbers. Get measured for cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and diabetes. Know the healthy ranges and work with your doctor toward a goal.

2) Build a team. Find a doctor who answers all your questions and encourages you to express your concerns. Bring your family and friends on board; they can help you stay healthy. Ask a friend to come to your appointments to ask questions and remember advice.

3) Take care of the machine. Your heart is one organ inside a bigger machine, somewhat like a car. Give the machine the right fuel. You wouldn’t put sugar water in your car, so don’t put junk in your body. Keep the machine well maintained and use it — exercise!

Of course, there’s more to heart health than numbers. I recommend a thorough heart screening to determine your personal risks and uncover underlying heart conditions.

Risks include a family history of heart disease, smoking, physical inactivity, being overweight, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Some of these you can’t control, but others you can definitely tackle, especially with the help of your doctor.

In Renton, you can find motivation through the Community Services Department’s “I CANN” initiative (Community Activity and Nutrition Network). It brings together education, leadership and local resources to fight obesity and help citizens work toward good health.

Check out the What’s Happening brochure for a broad range of activities, from basketball and drop-in fitness classes, to dancing, horse shoes, a weight room—even kick ball and dodge ball for adults.

Go to and click Living and then Recreation. Be sure to talk with your physician before starting a new exercise regime.

A heart screening can also uncover heart conditions beyond heart disease and stroke.

Heart conditions can affect anyone, from infants to the elderly. Heart disorders that develop before birth (called congenital defects) may affect the size or design of valves in the heart. An irregular heartbeat, or heart arrhythmia, is a condition in which the heart beats too fast, too slowly or irregularly.

All conditions can change over time and should be monitored closely by your doctor.

Embrace the purpose of Heart Health Awareness Month. Be sure to maintain regular visits with your primary care doctor. If your risks or symptoms concern you, ask about a heart screening by a cardiologist.

Dr. Joshua M. Buckler, MD, FACC, practices cardiology at Pacific Medical Centers’ Renton, First Hill and Northgate clinics. Dr. Buckler is board certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease. He is President of the Board of the American Heart Association—Puget Sound. Pacific Medical Centers is a private, not-for-profit, multispecialty healthcare network of nine clinics in Beacon Hill, Canyon Park, Federal Way, First Hill, Lynnwood, Northgate, Puyallup, Renton and Totem Lake.

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