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In February, Take Heart!

An American Indian proverb says: The most difficult journey a man would ever take is from his head to his heart.

By Isabel M. Estrada Portales

An American Indian proverb says: The most difficult journey a man would ever take is from his head to his heart.

In the spiritual realm, that ancient proverb may have many layers, but it also could be summed up as: the knowledge in our heads is of little use if we don’t believe it in our hearts, and put it into practice.

Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by heart disease. Not surprisingly they exhibit more of the risk factors for this condition, such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, overweight, and a sedentary and inactive lifestyle. But the good news that Americans can lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 82 percent by simply leading a healthy lifestyle.

There are other risk factors, such as age, and family history that we can’t do much about, but we can still take proactive measures to lessen the impact of those risk factors on ourselves.

This February, take heart and create a plan to embrace your heart as the source of all goodness, and care for it accordingly.

Information is key, but then comes the journey from our heads to our hearts: we have to convert that into livable knowledge, and live by it.

Heart-friendly lifestyle, now that’s cool!

We know how good it feels to exercise, we know fried food are sweet poisons, we even know what should our healthier choices be, but we have trouble traveling that road from knowing it to applying it.

"Five years ago, I was driving with my sister when I began having shoulder pain,” said Joan, 52, and African American woman turned health advocate. “She had experienced a heart attack two weeks earlier, so she drove straight to the hospital. Sure enough, I was having a heart attack.”

“My doctor tells me that if I have another I might not make it through, because the first one damaged my heart. I had no choice but to change everything in my life. I quit smoking, I exercise, and I eat healthy now. Until I had a heart attack myself, I thought heart attacks were for old men.”

There are small, incremental steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease, and, if you already have it, to keep the condition under control and live a fuller, wonderful life… and it could really be fun!

If you're currently active, probably you can add new exercise routines that might be more beneficial to your heart.

If you aren’t active, don’t run that marathon just yet! You can really begin by taking moderate but constant steps to give your heart a work out. Aim towards 60 minutes a day, but start by taking one flight of stairs tomorrow, and parking farther away from the door. There are many steps you can take, and they add up.

There must be some form of exercise that you like. Yes, even for you. Try making it a regular activity, and stick with it for the long haul.

You are what you eat

Your heart is at the mercy of your mouth. You can make the choice of being merciful with your heart, and you’ll get nice returns on the investment. Otherwise, you’ll be sorry.

Research have proved that certain foods can help or hinder you heart.

A study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has reasserted this, and has now become an eating plan of sort for those who want to be kind to their hearts.

The study was called “DASH", and it tested nutrients as they occur together in food.

Its findings showed that blood pressures were reduced with an eating plan that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy foods.

This eating plan—known as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan— also includes whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts. It is reduced in red meat, sweets, and sugar-containing beverages. It is rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber.

If you are healthy, you are lucky, you have time to adjust to a change in your lifestyle. Those like Joan had to change everything at once. So, take advantage of your healthy status… and work to keep it so.

Shopping to your heart’s content

Remember, you need a plan. The plan starts before getting in the car to go grocery shopping (you could also try walking there). Plan your meals. This is not only a time saver, but a calorie saver, because you can avoid buying things that you may grab just because they are there. Also, you will make sure to include the healthy stuff your heart needs as part of your weekly eating plan.

On your next trip to the grocery store, toss these heart-healthy items in your shopping basket: flaxseed oil, fish, some soy product, brown rice, natural polyunsaturated oils such as olive, canola, safflower, soy which are excellent sources of essential fatty acids, nuts who are very satisfying and healthy, whole-grain breads which provide complex carbohydrates.

Instead of salt and sodium, which cause your blood pressure to spike and put your heart to work harder, try to spice up your life with herbs that will make your food tastier, and will add several health benefits (just think on the beneficial effects of garlic). Now it’s the time to give it an upgrade to grandma’s cookbook. Who knew grandma actually knew something?

Women, beware!

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. In minority populations, the risk is especially great.

Heart disease is the #1 killer of Latinas. Together with stroke, heart disease accounts for a third of all deaths among Latinas, who also have high rates of some factors that increase the risk of developing heart disease, such as diabetes, overweight and obesity, and physical inactivity. Same goes for African American women. Heart disease and some of the factors that increase the risk of developing it – such as high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, and diabetes– are more prevalent among black women than white women.

The prevalence of heart disease in women has long been underestimated and misunderstood, in part due to most of the research being focused on men, believed to be more prone to the condition, and also because men and women have different symptoms.

The Heart Truth campaign was created to dispel those myths and spread the word about the urgency of taking care of women’s hearts.

“In 1991, I went to the ER with chest pains twice in one week,” said Paula, a 45 years old African American who is a campaign participant for The Heart Truth. “They said it was ulcers. Then the pain became excruciating. Again, the ER said there was nothing they could do.”

“I refused to leave and was admitted for observation. Later, the cardiologist on duty saw my EKG and asked, 'Where's the 34-year-old who had the massive heart attack?' I had emergency surgery. But the damage was done; only part of my heart muscle functions. I had to quit a job I loved, and my life is completely changed. They thought I was too young to have a heart attack,” concluded Paula.

For women, age becomes a risk factor at 55. After menopause, women are more apt to get heart disease, in part because their body's production of estrogen drops.

Some of the symptoms of heart disease in women include chest tightness, heaviness or pain, sudden shortness of breath, pain in the shoulders, back, neck or jaw, nausea, breaking into a cold sweat, lightheadedness.

The Heart Truth and the Office on Women's Health offer the following steps to better heart health:

  1. Don't smoke, and if you do, quit. Women who smoke are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than non-smoking women. Smoking also boosts the risk of stroke and cancer.

  2. Aim for a healthy weight. It's important for a long, vigorous life. Overweight and obesity cause many preventable deaths.

  3. Get moving. Make a commitment to be more physically active. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.

  4. Eat for heart health. Choose a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and moderate in total fat.

  5. Know your numbers. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, triglycerides), and blood glucose. Work with your doctor to improve any numbers that are not normal.


February is National Heart Month Exit Disclaimer

February 3 is National Wear Red Day

February 17 is National Women’s Heart Day Exit Disclaimer

Spice Up Your Life!
Eat Less Salt and Sodium

Be Heart Smart!
Eat Foods Lower in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

Heart Disease 101

Heart Disease Data/Statistics

Heart Disease Publications

Content Last Modified: 2/3/2012 11:36:00 AM
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