Banking on a Healthy Heart

By Sue Sveum

As Roman poet Virgil wrote, “The greatest wealth is health.” That’s still true today — which is why it’s important to understand and appreciate the value of your heart health, and take care of it, before it’s too late.

UW Health cardiologist Dr. Aga Silbert, who is understandably passionate about the subject, has found a way to reach her patients in a manner they can really understand — by comparing heart health to finances.

“I love using examples,” she says, “and when it comes to heart health, you have to think of your health as wealth — and manage it as you would your finances.”

We all know that health is important, but in our everyday lives, Dr. Silbert says we tend to give our health little thought. “Most of us are very aware of our finances, but only half of us know what our cholesterol is,” she adds. “We need to make health our first priority, and learn to manage it.”

Here are Dr. Silbert’s five points she likes to share with patients relating to heart health and wealth.

  1. MAKE A BUDGET

Finance: This means knowing how much money you have in the bank in order to manage your finances.

Health: “It begins with knowing your family history, which contributes greatly to your heart health,” says Dr. Silbert. “You should also know your numbers — cholesterol, weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels to be aware of any abnormalities.”

Dr. Silbert adds that your blood pressure should be checked at every doctor’s visit. Cholesterol and blood sugar levels should be checked at your first appointment as an adult with a primary care physician. After that, screening will depend on your personal risk for heart disease and how close you are to the average acceptable thresholds. For those at normal levels, screening every three to five years is generally sufficient. For those at a higher risk, your doctor may want to monitor your levels annually.

  1. FIGURE OUT HOW TO INVEST

Finance: With finances, you’d invest based on a combination of your wealth and your goals.

Health: In order to adequately invest in your health, Dr. Silbert advises sticking to the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” list.

  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get active
  • Maintain normal weight
  • Manage blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar

According to the AHA, If you do all of these, you’d reduce your lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease by 75% — and even those who meet three to four of these guidelines can reduce their risk by more than half. But, don’t feel bad — according to an AHA study, only around 1% of Americans have actually achieved all seven.

Dr. Silbert suggests picking and choosing just one to begin. “Start out by investing in one that will give you the highest return on investment,” she says, “such as healthy eating.”

  1. CONTINUE SAVING

Finance: One of the most important keys to growing your wealth is starting early. “You can’t invest if you don’t have money,” Dr. Silbert explains, adding that if you ask the average teen how much an iPhone 14 is and whether they have that much money, they could give you an answer in a second. But ask how much exercise they should do each week, and they’re lost. (By the way, the answer is that adolescents should aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous intensity activity daily. Adults need 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week — such as brisk walking — and two days of muscle strengthening.)

Health: “Kids are taught about saving at an early age, but not enough children are being brought up in an environment that stresses the importance of investing in health and how to do that,” stresses Dr. Silbert. “They’re much more educated on finances, and that’s not the most important thing.”

Parents should start by educating themselves on heart health so they can keep on top of their child’s health. Be a role model for your kids and promote being active and talk about heart- healthy practices. Your influence is greatest when your kids are between the ages of seven and eight — so it’s important that you don’t smoke and eat healthy at home. Invite them to help you grocery shop and cook meals together.

  1. MANAGE AND PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES

Finance: Even if you’ve saved and made good investments, a sudden emergency could drain your bank account precipitously.

Health: The 19th century humorist Josh Billings may have said it best: “Health is like money; we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.” And that means valuing your heart health by doing all the right things, according to Dr. Silbert. “Start by being in the best overall health you can,” she says, “so if a health emergency strikes, you’re at your best, and other risk factors don’t weigh you down.”

  1. HAVE A COACH YOU CAN TRUST

Finance: In finances, you have a financial advisor.

Health: Your primary care physician or specialist can serve as your advisor and cheerleader. “It’s important to develop a relationship based on trust — respecting their knowledge and opinion, and knowing they’ll also listen to your goals and expectations,” stresses Dr. Silbert. “And of course, just like building your savings, you have to be willing to do the work.”

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