HARLINGEN — Thump-thump-thump-thump…

Is that ticker ticking? Want to keep it that way?

February is American Heart Health Month. It’s the perfect time to think about diet and exercise to ensure robust cardiovascular health, said Dr. Charles Mild, cardiologist at Valley Baptist Medical Center.

“Heart health is basically important not only every minute but every day,” Mild said. “But it’s nice to have one month a year to remind people of that. And what an appropriate month, it’s passion of the heart.”

Heart disease is by and large preventable, and that includes those who have a genetic predisposition to heart disease, Mild said.

“That’s because diet and exercise influence the good genes and the bad genes,” Mild said. “It can turn on the good genes and turn off the bad genes.”

Valley Baptist wasted no time celebrating American Heart Health Month. The hospital celebrated National Wear Red Day on Friday and offered employees a basic healthy heart foods presentation, a heart healthy meal preparation demonstration, and complimentary blood pressure screenings.

The hospital will host Dinner with a Doctor on Heart Health with Mild on Feb. 19. Mild emphasizes a healthy diet low on red meat and sugars.

“Go low on the food chain, vegetables first and then fruits,” he said. “Keep the other stuff, meats and oils, for a once in awhile type of food.”

Good cardiovascular health requires a holistic approach. Randy Townley, director of cardiovascular services at Valley Baptist, says achieving and maintaining heart health requires a plan with specific goals.

“We want to try to think about controlling our weight,” Townley said. “We want to try to set up an exercise plan, we want to reduce the sugar and sweets and set up a better diet. Start small and you can get good results very fast.”

Any specific diet and exercise regimen should be cleared by a physician, Townley added.

Mild has been an outspoken advocate of the Mediterranean Diet, which has been shown to reduce deaths from cardio-vascular disease, and that’s not all.

A medical journal recently ran a piece which showed that those who do even one marathon in an entire lifetime have a 4 percent reduction in death from vascular disease.

“That trial was done in older runners in the 50s range,” he said. “It shows that basically it can turn back the clock of vascular aging.”

However, you don’t have to be a marathon runner to achieve good cardiovascular health.

“Any exercise has been shown to have some beneficial effect,” Mild said. “The data will show that if you run one day a week it will have a beneficial effect. If you walk 30 minutes every day or at least every other day you have a marked decrease in vascular disease.”

An exercise regimen can be fairly simple. Townley pointed out gym memberships are pretty inexpensive, but you don’t necessarily even need that.

“You can join a gym or maybe have a treadmill at home to walk on,” he said. “If you don’t have time to go to the doctor right now you can always go for a walk and enjoy the outside.”

Townley put the cost-benefit ratio of heart health this way.

“Avoid a catastrophic disability,” he said. “With a heart attack or stroke you can imagine what pain that would be for yourself and your family members. If you were to be hospitalized for a long length of time and become totally debilitated, it’s not a good deal. You don’t ever want to have that happen. You want to spend time with your children, your grandchildren, your loved ones.”

How to avoid all that?

Well, diet and exercise, of course

Mediterranean Diet

Vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, grains. No beef or packaged foods. Avoid bread. Use olive oil.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

1. Vegetables – Eat all the vegetables you want.

2. Fruits – Fruits are good, but they have more sugar than people need so they should be kept within limits.

3. Fish and poultry

4. Oatmeal – Oatmeal eats up cholesterol which is a primary cause of coronary heart disease.