Get Heart Healthy in February
February is heart month, and there many events celebrating American Heart Month, National Wear Red Day, Million Hearts and, of course, Valentine’s Day. We all know about heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease and cardiovascular disease) and promise to do a better job at eating better and getting more exercise. These are great resolutions, but they fall the wayside. Seniors (mainly women) are more at risk because of age, which usually includes years of unhealthy eating and minimal physical activity. However, there is new data and initiatives to get people more heart health conscious. Why? According to the CDC, heart disease kills 1 in 4 Americans. This puts a great strain on our health care. In fact, it’s the number one killer in Virginia. Virginia is not taking this lying down; the Virginia Department of Health has started its Plan for Wellbeing. The goal is to achieve measurable results by 2020. There are four aims to this program:
- Healthy, Connected Communities
- Strong Start for Children
- Preventive Actions
- System of Healthcare
Also, the American Heart Association echo’s the above by stating that heart disease is the leading cause of deaths in Americans. There is a wide range of heart conditions, including blood vessel diseases, heart rhythm problems, and heart valve problems.
However, the most common cause of heart disease is a blockage (or narrowing) of coronary arteries. The blockage is caused by plaques. Over time, the plaques develop in arteries and blood vessels. The build-up of plaques accumulates because of the damage to the inner lining of an artery; the damage is caused by high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol. The result of heart disease is a heart attack. Thus, it is important to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked in some time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revised the blood pressure guidelines. It’s also necessary to take steps to avoid high blood cholesterol. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. When you have bad cholesterol, the amount of lipids (fat) is very high and increases the risk of heart attack. Bad cholesterol can be reduced with diet, medication and exercise.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
When it comes to a heart attack, many believe that men and women have the same symptoms. Wrong. Women do have different symptoms (in addition to the common symptoms such as chest pain; pain in jaw, shoulders or back; pain in the arm, shortness of breath, and weakness). They also experience nausea with vomiting, indigestion, jaw pain, lightheadedness and extreme fatigue. According to Baptist Health South Florida, nearly half of the women experiencing a heart attack did not have chest pain. However, they did have fatigue and shortness of breath. Since these are not the “classic” signs of a heart attack, women are less likely to get immediate treatment. Thus, putting a bigger emphasis on women’s health.
At High Risk for Developing Heart Disease
It’s important to note that African Americans have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. They also have a higher risk of developing complications associated with heart diseases, such as stroke, kidney disease, and dementia. Researchers still do not have a concrete answer as to why African Americans are more prone to high blood pressure. Also, those with Type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing heart disease. There are plenty of resources that provide guidance on diabetes and the care of the heart, such as third-party organizations like My Heart Matters.
This news should shock you. So, what can you (or your senior) do? Let’s look at the risk factors for heart disease. These include:
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Lack of exercise
- Family History/Genetics
The old saying “knowing is half the battle” is certainly true. The more you know about heart disease, you more you can do to prevent it.
Getting on a Healthy Track
It’s not too late to start a heart-healthy life. Seniors (and older adults) can start by changing their lifestyle. This means changing your mindset. This works better than starting a diet because people fail at diets. Think about it, when you are forced to eat certain foods, especially if not prepared correctly or you are not used to eating them, you will get sick of them and quit. When you make the change to a healthy lifestyle, you are creating a positive movement in your life (and your family’s lives). It all begins with small changes. Eating the right foods can be fun and making healthy dishes are fun to make. So, what are heart-healthy foods? They include salmon, red grapes, nuts, olive oil, berries, oatmeal, dark chocolate, fat-free or low-fat dairy, chickpeas and avocadoes. A great example of delicious heart-healthy cuisine is the Mediterranean diet.
Exercise should also be one of your lifestyle changes. Like food choices, it’s something else in your control. You can get an exercise buddy, which is a great way to stay motivated and catch up on current events. Other smart moves are to stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake.
When you change your diet, get more exercise and reduce your stress levels, you are on the right path to preventing not only heart disease but high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The risk factors for high blood pressure are excessive drinking, smoking, physical inactivity, family history, age, race and poor diet (i.e. too much salt). The risk factors for high cholesterol are the same as high blood pressure plus diabetes, obesity and large waist circumference.
Medications that Cause High Blood Pressure & High Cholesterol
If you have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, there are certain medications that you should avoid as well as have a conversation about them with your doctor. Medications that raise high blood pressure include NSAIDs, cold medicine (i.e. certain decongestants) and weight loss medications. For high cholesterol, medications to avoid include beta blockers, estrogen and progestin, and prednisone.
You should create a list of all medications (including supplements and herbals) you take and give it to your doctor. It is vital that all medical labels be read, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications. And talk to your doctor before using any OTC drugs, vitamins, herbals or nutrition supplements. Your doctor can give you a list of alternatives. If you need to go to the emergency room, be sure that your loved ones have your medical information and that they can get it to the physicians quickly.
The Heart Truth
This month, wear red to support the effort to do more for heart health as well as choose a healthy diet, get down to a healthy weight, attend an American Heart Month event and use social media to raise awareness about heart disease. Let’s put an end to heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. For more information on heart disease and prevention programs, please contact your health professionals or go to hhs.gov. Remember, go red for women in February!
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