A coffee with ... Marcus Howell
Cardiologists want to make sure our tickers are running as best they can. But keeping our hearts healthy is largely a personal responsibility.
In recognition of Heart Health Awareness Month in February, I talked with local cardiologist Marcus Howell to learn more about heart health.
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and having a stroke is the third most likely cause of death and a leading cause of disabilities.
Howell, who practices with Western Slope Cardiologists, sat down with me for quick cup of coffee in Community Hospital’s cafeteria while he was on call.
Howell had cup of coffee with a dash of cream and sugar.
Hamilton: Cream and sugar?
Howell: Just a little.
Hamilton: And, you drink coffee?
Howell: I drink about a cup or two a day. There is no research that shows coffee is bad for your heart or affects blood pressure. It’s not the coffee that’s bad, it’s what you put in it.
Hamilton: Are more people, especially women, becoming aware of heart disease?
Howell: There’s been a decrease in smoking and an increase in obesity, which contributes to heart disease. More women are afraid of cancer, but if you look at the statistics, the numbers (show women) are much more likely of dying of heart disease. The awareness is getting better.
Hamilton: Any advice for taking care of our hearts?
Howell: Get regular exercise four to five times a week for 45 minutes to an hour. Try to be within 10 percent of your ideal body weight. But people don’t need to be skinny gym rats to be healthy. Get screenings for cholesterol and high blood pressure. The big factors are smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about your heart. Screening and prevention are important. If you think you’re at risk for heart attacks and stroke, be sure to talk to your doctor about that. Even for people with heart disease, the nice thing is there’s a lot of things you can do to be healthy. You can have a better quality of life.
Hamilton: What do you do for exercise?
Howell: I ride a bicycle at home. I have four kids. I can get it done easier there. It’s my heart and future. The best thing I can do for my kids is to be healthy.
Hamilton: Are people at risk for getting heart disease earlier in life?
Howell: Whether people are getting heart disease earlier or not, we don’t know because we’ve never seen it before. We just started looking for it. There’s no question that most of this starts in childhood. Autopsy reports show plaque builds up (in arteries) when we have a sedentary lifestyle. This is why it manifests itself in our 40s and 50s.
Hamilton: You could have been any kind of doctor. Why did you become a cardiologist?
Howell: It made sense to me when I read about it in med school. I was trying to find something that I could spend 40 years doing and not lose interest in. A lot of people like to go into cardiology because it feels like you’re helping people, and you can really have a good impact on someone’s life.