GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - This February marks the 50th anniversary of American Heart Month. The high obesity rate in Mississippi makes it even more important that people be aware of ways to reduce heart disease risk. While you can't change hereditary risk factors for heart disease, you can change lifestyle factors that play a huge role in preventing heart disease.
Cardiologist Dr. Bharat Sangani, from Coast Cardiology Center in Gulfport, knows what it's like to take care of patients in the state that has the highest obesity rate.
"Obesity is an epidemic worldwide, which creates so many health issues."
And he says overcoming those issues is challenging; especially in the South.
"In the Southern states, if it's not fried, it's not food. So it is difficult to get the concept of ideal body weight across to my patients."
And that's unfortunate, because Dr. Sangani says maintaining an ideal body weight is the single most important factor in fighting heart disease.
"The basic concept of good health remains the same, and that is you have to maintain ideal body weight."
Dr. Sangani says achieving ideal body weight and overall good heart health is a matter of following the basics.
"Primarily through regular exercise and controlling your diet, along with removing the vices you can avoid."
Vices like smoking.
"Smoking is the most important factor that creates the building up of plaque in the arteries. The nicotine in even one puff amends the quality of red blood cells that flow through the heart muscle."
In addition to not smoking, he says people need to learn to lower their stress levels, and control their diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure. These are all risk factors people can help reduce to help keep their heart healthy.
"Regular exercise, follow your ideal weight, eat right," and he adds as he points his finger for emphasis, "no smoking."
And as far as diet and exercise recommendations: watch your fat and sugar intake, and eat plenty of fruits and veggies. And the American Heart association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days a week.