Heart Smarts

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    National Heart Month kicked off Friday, Feb. 1 with Go Red for Women Day to raise awareness of heart disease in women. Previously thought of as a man’s health condition, heart disease is now the leading killer of women in America. In fact, 1 in 4 women will die from this problem, more than men and more than the next five top causes of death combined, according to the American Heart Association.

    0208GIBBERMAN.gif But enough of the Debbie Downer humdrum. It’s easier than you think to help protect yourself against cardiovascular disease. Just follow these 10 tips for a healthier heart!

    1. Know the Facts About Heart Disease. Since 1979, the death rate related to heart disease for men has decreased by 17 percent, but the rate for women has increased during the same amount of time. Despite the numbers, we are still less likely than men to get certain diagnostic testing and treatments, according to the American Heart Association. What’s even more disturbing is that doctors and researchers do not know how safe and effective some medicines or medical devices, like stents, are for us. Studies have shown that pre-menopausal women have a lower risk than post-menopausal women. The reasons aren’t clear, but it is believed that the loss of natural estrogen may be a factor. However, if you live a heart healthy life up until menopause, the risks of heart disease are reduced.

    2.Know Your Family History. Heart disease and its causes are usually hereditary. Things like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol can be family traits you can’t control. Have lunch with the family gossip queen, who knows everything about everyone, and get the dirt on your family’s medical history. You might learn something new about yourself in the process!

    3. Know Your Own Risk. Make an appointment with your family doctor and bring a short list of questions with you. Ask him or her which tests you need and how often so you can monitor your risk for heart disease. After having your blood work done, have your doctor explain the results to you. Even if you are not diagnosed with heart disease, get tips for your diet and ask what a safe exercise plan would be for you. And don’t forget to ask about the side effects of your prescribed medication, such as birth control. Your insurance company is paying good money for your doctor visit; make the most of it!


    4. Monitor Your Own Risk. Don’t make the first appointment with your doctor the only appointment with your doctor. Keep following up with him or her and to monitor things, such as your cholesterol and triglycerides. You can even check your own blood pressure at the grocery store. But remember, those machines are not always 100 percent accurate. Try taking the average of three readings for a more accurate number. Your blood pressure should be lower than 140 systolic, the maximum blood pressure reached as blood is pumped out of the heart chambers, over 90 diastolic, the amount of pressure on the walls of blood vessels when the heart is at rest. The ideal blood pressure reading is 120/80.


    5. Know the Symptoms. Susan Bradbury-Sneddon is a heart director with the American Heart Associaton (AHA). She was misdiagnosed for over 20 years, living with an intermittent pain in her chest, left arm and back. After ten years with a cardiologist, who called her “overdramatic,” she went to another who diagnosed her with a mitral valve prolapse (unnaturally large valve) and gave her a prescription for nitroglycerin. In November 1997, Susan came home from an AHA meeting feeling all the symptoms she had been living with, plus she had broken out in a cold sweat. She was afraid to go to the hospital because she didn’t want to be embarrassed as the AHA heart director if she wasn’t actually having a heart attack. Her husband may have saved her life when he held up an AHA flyer which said, “Don’t die of embarrassment.” The symptoms of a heart attack are different in men and women. Men usually just have pain or a feeling of pressure on their chest. Women can have that same pressure or pain in their chest along with other symptoms, such as pain in one or both arms, upper back, neck, jaw or stomach. They can also experience flu-like symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, trouble breathing, breaking out into a cold sweat, dizziness or lightheadedness, the inability to sleep, unusual fatigue, paleness or clammy skin. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not wait more than five minutes before calling for help.


    6. Stop Smoking. Smoking is the single most important preventable cause of death in the United States. By smoking, you increase your risk of developing heart disease by two to four percent. By smoking two packs a day, your risk is doubled. You may be scratching your head, wondering how inhaling smoke into your lungs affect your heart? Simple. Nicotine. It decreases the amount of oxygen your heart gets, while increasing your blood pressure, heart rate and blood clotting and damages the cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels. If you still think you just can’t kick the habit, think of it this way: Smoking gives you unattractive wrinkles, stained teeth and sallow looking skin. If you can’t quit for your heart, at least do it for vanity’s sake.


    7. Eat Heart Healthy. The American Heart Association recommends a healthy diet, with a variety of foods from each food group. Their Web site offers a helpful print-out, titled How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?. It lists the food groups and how many servings each day you should have from each:

    • Breads, cereals, pasta and starchy vegetables: six or more servings a day. Be sure to include whole grains and brown rice as much as possible.
    • Fruits and veggies: eight to ten servings a day. These are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and low in fat and calories.
    • Lean meat, poultry, fish and beans: no more than 6 cooked ounces per day. You should have at least two servings of baked or grilled fish each week.
    • Fat-free and low-fat milk products: two to three servings per day. Two percent milk is NOT low-fat. Use dry-curd, fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese. Also, cheeses shouldn’t have more than 3 grams of fat per ounce or more than two grams of saturated fat per ounce.
    • Fats and oils: two to three servings per day. Choose fats and oils with two grams or less saturated fat per tablespoon like liquid or tub margarines, canola, corn, safflower, soy bean and olive oils. Make sure you count the fats in the food you are cooking, as well as the fats you are cooking with. And be sure so avoid hydrogenated oils and fats. For more information about hydrogenated fats, see this week’s "Heart Healthy Foods” story! To cut down on saturated fat and calories in your diet, you can either exchange meat with pasta, rice, beans and/or vegetables or pair these items with a lean meat, skinless poultry or fish. You can also reduce fat and calories by boiling, broiling, grilling, baking, roasting, poaching, steaming, sautéing, stir-frying or microwaving your meats. Another good tip from “How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?” is to trim the fat from meat and poultry. Brown your meat, then drain the fat. Finally, refrigerate soups and stews after cooking to remove the fat from the top. You can cut cholesterol by eating fewer foods from animals. Take eggs, for example. One large, whole egg has about 213 mg of cholesterol – about 71 percent of the daily limit. Instead of eating a whole egg, try two egg whites or one egg white plus two teaspoons of unsaturated oil. Substitute your regular eggs with something like Eggland’s Best. This brand of egg says they feed their chickens with vegetarian feed, making their eggs better than other brands. According to their Nutritional Facts, their eggs have 25 percent less saturated fat than regular eggs, and boast 180 less milligrams of cholesterol.


    8. Have a Heart Friendly Exercise Plan. At the Go Red for Women Web site, you can join the Choose to Move 12-week program, a free physical activity program for women. Each week, you get an e-mail with one topic in it that will help you on your path to being heart healthy! Some of the topics are creating a plan of action, avoiding traps and trip-ups and planning for the future.The recommended amount of exercise is 15 to 30 minutes a day, at least three times a week. You don’t necessarily have to join a gym, just find ways to add a little extra movement to your day. And make it fun- mall walking and dancing count as exercise, too!


    9. Lower Your Stress Levels. One of the 12 steps of the Choose to Move program is “De-Stressing the Stressed Out.” Constant draining stress puts serious pressure on your heart. Gay Purpura, owner and founder of the Heart Center is a licensed HeartMath™ provider. “I teach people how to change their heart rhythm, which reduces stress,” Purpura says. She trains people on how to use the HeartMath™ system, which works with the emWave. According to the Web site, the emWave measures changes in your heart rhythms that result from stress and helps you regulate your breathing to eventually regulate your heat beat.“The HeartMath™ program trains people to use their heart to activate the good hormones and deactivate the stress hormones,” Purpura says. Excess amounts of hormones, such as cortisol are like battery acid to your system, she says. It wears down your body, making you more susceptible to diseases.


    10. Sign the HEART for Women Act Petition. Two senators, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and two representatives, Losi Capps (D-CA) and Barbara Cubin (R-WY), introduced the HEART for Women Act on Feb. 14, 2006. There are three things this act seeks to do for women:

    • Its first goal is to raise awareness among women and their health care providers about the difference between heart disease in men and women. According to the American Heart Association, more than 90 percent of primary care physicians do not know that heart disease kills more women than men. Included in this part of the Act is also authorization for the Medicare program to conduct an “educational awareness campaign for older women about their risk for heart disease and stroke.” The second part will provide gender and race-specific information for clinicians and researchers by requiring that data reported to the federal government be sorted by gender, race and ethnicity.
    • Finally, it will try to improve screening for low-income women at risk for heart disease and stroke by expanding the WISEWOMAN program to all 50 states. WISEWOMAN is an acronym for Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation. It currently operates in only 14 states providing tests for high blood pressure and high cholesterol to low-income uninsured and underinsured women.