Love Your Heart

smiling female doctor or nurse with heart

It’s February and love is in the air. It’s the time of year when we regularly see hearts, roses and shouts of “amour, amour, amour.” It’s also Heart Health Month. For many of us, that doesn’t mean much unless we’ve been touched by the tragedy of heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, one in four Americans died from heart disease related issues. The numbers get even worse for women, especially women of color. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women and more women than men die from it each year.

All this doesn’t sound like a very pleasant way to start off Valentine’s Day, but according to Kim Dawson, director of operations for the cardiovascular department at Florida Hospital Orlando, it could just save your life or the life of someone you love.

Dawson, who is also a registered nurse, says knowing your risk factors is the first step to preventing or mitigating your chances for being diagnosed with heart disease.

“The American Heart Association has a great way of helping people understand their risks for heart disease. They call it ‘My Life Check,’” Dawson says. “It’s a life assessment that takes into account certain critical factors, such as lifestyle and blood pressure, to give you a heart score and steps you can take to improve that score.”

The More You Know
Working in cardiovascular healthcare for 15 years, Dawson says one of the many problems with heart disease is that too many people believe it is an older person’s illness. “We have seen more and more young people with heart disease than ever before. Some of it is heredity and children are born with heart issues, but some of it is from children leading sedentary lifestyles and eating way too many calories. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise among American children,” Dawson says.

Dr. Thomas Walsh, a cardiologist with Florida Heart Group in downtown Orlando agrees that maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) for children and adults is a one of the best ways to prevent heart disease.

“Making sure you and your family get at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise every day is key to staying heart healthy,” he says. Both Dawson and Walsh mention using “wearables,” or pedometers and other tech-savvy devices that count how much you move in a day, can help. Some devices even have an alarm that sounds to let you know you’ve been sitting for too long and it’s time to get up and move around.

Knowing your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are also important. “Even if you feel healthy, everyone should get a physical to find out these numbers annually,” Dr. Walsh says. “It is one of the fastest ways we can see where you stand heart-wise that is truly non-invasive.”

What You Can Do
The biggest thing you can do to improve your heart health is quit smoking. Dr. Walsh says the incidence of having a heart episode decreases drastically even after only a few months of smoking cessation. Dawson reminds that even second-hand smoke is risky. If you have children, smoking in the home or car with them is harmful to their hearts.

Dr. Walsh, who works in what he calls the plumbing of the heart as opposed to the wiring of the heart, says there are many new procedures and methods for helping those who have heart disease or other heart-related issues. “It is an amazing time to be in cardiology. We know more and more and are using highly technical and less invasive procedures to reduce cardiac arrest in individuals with heart disease. Besides having good genes, the old adage of eating right, exercising and not smoking are probably the simplest ways to help improve your odds against heart disease.”

Eat Right, Right Now
Naturally, hereditary heart disease is a factor for those suffering from this debilitating illness. But, Dr. Walsh says, if you know you have heart disease in your family, you can still do something to limit the negative affects and harm heart disease can do to your body.

Hammering home how dangerous smoking is once again, Dr. Walsh says if you have heart-related issues in your family history, smoking cessation is a must. If you are overweight, increasing your activity and decreasing your calories – particularly empty calories from sweets, highly processed foods and high-fat, low-fiber foods – will go a long way in improving your heart health as well as your mood.

“There are studies that show that people who eat more servings of fruits and vegetables and lower their intake of calories from red meat and highly-processed foods are self identified as happier than those who predominately get their calories from high-fat, low-fiber diets,” Dr. Walsh says. So if you want to be happier, healthier and show your love for yourself and your loved ones, why not take a heart health assessment and make a commitment to improving or maintaining your health heart now.


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