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American Heart Month: Tips for Better Heart Health for Seniors

February is American Heart Month.

February is American Heart Month. Photo courtesy CDC

I recently took my annual refresher class for First Aid/CPR. Why?

I took it because heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. I want to be up-to-date if I need to save someone’s life.

Practicing First Aid/CPR is particularly timely in February since it is American Heart Month. It is also a good time to look at the major signs and easy tips for improving heart health.

Heart Attack Symptoms

You may have heard these statistics before, but they are still startling. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that about 600,000 people die from heart disease in this country every year – that is 1 out of every 4 deaths.

Most cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. It can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias. It costs the U.S. $312.6 billion each year in terms of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

The five major symptoms of a heart attack are:
• Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
• Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
• Chest pain or discomfort.
• Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder.
• Shortness of breath.

Heart Disease is Preventable and Controllable

Get your blood pressure checked regularly. Photo courtesy CDC

Get your blood pressure checked regularly. Photo courtesy CDC

Although this condition affects a huge number of citizens, the CDC says it is preventable and controllable. During February the center and the American Heart Association (AHA) encourage us to take baby steps toward a healthier life.

We can help prevent heart disease by making healthy choices and managing any medical conditions we may have. Here are a easy heart health tips:

Eat a healthy diet. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (5 a day for adults) plus foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber. Limit salt.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. Ask your doctor to evaluate your BMI or body mass index.

Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Adults should exercise for at least 30 minutes most days.

Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis.

Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease.

Limit alcohol use. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can increase your blood pressure. (Men 2 drinks per day, women no more than one).

Have your cholesterol checked. Have it checked at least once every 5 years.

Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely, and talk with your doctor about treatment options.

Take your medicine. If you’re taking medication to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions.

Easy Heart Health Resolutions

In an article in Heart Health, nutritionist and AHA volunteer Maribet Rivera-Brut suggests that the New Year is the perfect time to break unhealthy habits and start some new healthier ones. The easiest way to success, she says, is to set achievable goals and to make a commitment.

How Seniors Can Change Bad Habits:

Create realistic goals and strategies. If you are trying to eat more vegetables, don’t start by gorging yourself. Pace yourself.
Keep it simple. If you aren’t used to eating something, try gradually adding it to your diet.
Be patient. Changing isn’t easy. But if you slip, just get back on track.

Rivera-Brut offers five easy, eat healthy resolutions for every lifestyle: drink more water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, eat seasonably fresh foods, cut out processed foods and eat more fiber.

In terms of processed foods, for example, she encourages everyone to “just say no” to aspartame, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil. Also, drop processed foods. Rivera-Brut explains that high salt intake puts us at risk for high blood pressure. In fact, 75 percent of the salt in the average American diet comes from salt added to processed food and restaurant food.

The CDC offers this list of the Saltiest Top 10 Foods: bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes and snacks.

Seniors Prevent Heart Attacks by Joining Million Hearts®

Million Hearts strives to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Logo courtesy Million Hearts

Million Hearts strives to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Logo courtesy Million Hearts

If you haven’t heard of it, let me introduce you to a non-profit that is working to reduce heart attacks. Million Hearts® is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.

Million Hearts® brings together communities, health systems, nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, and private-sector partners from across the country to fight heart disease and stroke. It invites each of us to be “One in a Million” by taking responsibility for our own heart health.

Million Hearts® Steps for Heart Health:

PREVENT heart disease and stroke in your family by UNDERSTANDING the risks.
GET UP and GET ACTIVE by exercising for 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Appropriate Aspirin Therapy
Blood Pressure Control
Cholesterol Management
Smoking Cessation
STAY STRONG by eating a heart-healthy diet that is high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol.
TAKE CONTROL of your heart health by following your doctor’s instructions.

What are your tips, recipes, suggestions for heart health?