Love you! Love your heart!

By: By Kathie Cox - Public Health Matters

February celebrates American Heart Month along with Valentine’s Day and National WEAR RED DAY on Friday.

So I thought this was a good time to talk about “heart” health. Chances are that you or someone in your family will be affected by cardiovascular disease (CVD) in your lifetime. The good news is that you can reduce your risk of heart disease or stroke if you start early!

The American Heart Association recommends getting regular checkups annually starting in your early 20’s. That way, your healthcare provider can track changes in your health over time. If you do not have a primary doctor, now is the time to choose one. Taking care of your heart is more important than you might think. Too few people know that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American men and women.

The good news is that you can prevent or reduce your risk of developing heart disease by knowing some risk factors that only you can control:

* High Blood Pressure – this condition can increase your risk of stroke and heart attack. Current guidelines suggest aiming for less than 120/80, because 140/90 is now considered hypertension.

* Smoking – if you smoke, your risk of developing coronary heart disease is two to four times that of nonsmokers. Find resources to help you quit.

* High Cholesterol – the higher your total blood cholesterol, the greater your risk of coronary heart disease because cholesterol and other fats can build up, narrow or block your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

* Physical Inactivity – lack of physical activity increases your risk of coronary heart disease.

* Obesity or Overweight – if you have excess body fat – especially around your waist – you are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.

* Diabetes – having diabetes is a major risk for heart disease and stroke, especially if your blood sugar is not controlled.

There are other risk factors to be aware of, so it is important you talk to your doctor about how your age, race and heredity may affect your risk for heart disease. It’s not hard to reduce your risk for heart disease. Start today with small, simple and smart steps like:

* Get a Checkup – let your birthday be a reminder that it’s time for your yearly checkup.

* Get Up Off the Couch – step, march, dance or jog in place or take a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes most days of the week – you can even do it while watching TV!

* Quit Smoking in Four Steps – here’s how. If you can’t go cold turkey, cut the number of cigarettes you smoke each day in half; then cut that number in half; cut it in half again; finally cut down to zero!

* Drop a Pound or Two – cutting out just 200 to 300 calories a day (about one candy bar’s worth) can help you lose up to two pounds per week and gradually bring you closer to a heart-healthy weight. And watch your portion size.

* Become a Salt/Sugar Detective – check out the nutrition labels on packaged foods to see how much sodium (salt) or sugar they contain. Try for less than 2,300 milligrams (about

a teaspoon) of salt per day. The CDC guidelines suggest no more than 10% of overall calories (about 180 cal) or 45 grams per day for women and no more than 200 calories or 50 grams of sugar a day for men. Did you know the average American consumes 82 grams of added sugar a day? On top of the recommended 45 to 50 grams? Just ONE 12oz. can of Mountain Dew has 52 grams of sugar! Yikes! Consuming all the added sugar is one reason our stomachs are bloated.

It’s also important to know the signs of a Heart Attack or Stroke. If you or someone you are with has any of these signs, don’t wait! Call for help! Call 9-1-1. Get to a hospital right away!

Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that last more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomac. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

For stroke, the signs are:

— Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

— Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

— Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

— Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

— Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Only you can love your heart. So take a moment, close your eyes and put your hand over your heart. Think about and feel your heart’s beat. The power of your life is in your hands. How important your heart is. And make a promise to yourself to do something for your heart today. Exercise regularly or become more physically active, know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, weight/BMI, blood sugar levels), eat smart OR just give someone a BIG HUG today. Take this moment to LOVE your heart and improve your overall cardiovascular health.

By Kathie Cox

Public Health Matters

Reach Kathie Cox, health educator at Scotland County Health Department, 910-277-2470, Ext. 4478.

Reach Kathie Cox, health educator at Scotland County Health Department, 910-277-2470, Ext. 4478.