Posted by: Chelsea Hampton | February 20, 2012

Heart Health!

Most of us know that heart health is important, but sometimes we overlook what may seem like small health habits that actually make a big difference. More often than not, we may encounter inconspicuous and even bizarre heart health risks that we are unaware of, such as having an infection, putting in long days at work, poor dental hygiene, emotional stress, and frequently indulging in fatty meals. While it is important to keep certain stats in check such as cholesterol, blood pressure and body composition, there are many other particulars to be aware of as well. Some of these health specifics vary across age and gender, and can change based on current health habits and behaviors.

Fast Facts about Risk:

  • Did you know that the # 1 killer of men and women is heart disease? Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.
  • Men and women often have different symptoms for heart attack, so it is important to be aware of the risks and warning signs for each gender.
  • While emotional stress and grief can impact both men and women, women are at an increased risk for “broken heart syndrome” – which is also known as stress-related cardiomyopathy – and the resulting complications can lead to heart problems.
  • Smoking significantly increases the risk of heart attack for everyone.
  • Diet and Exercise:

–           Diets high in sodium, cholesterol and fat can put a major strain on the heart. High cholesterol can cause plaque build-up within the arteries, and this process can be deadly since symptoms may not appear for quite some time. While a certain amount of sodium is needed in the body, diets high in sodium can increase blood pressure and be particularly harmful for individuals already struggling with hypertension. While a certain amount of fat is also needed for the human body to function, a diet high in fat presents many health risks, especially those high in saturated fats and trans fats. All of these substances in excess can lead to weight gain, hypertension, arterial plaque build-up and other health complications.

–          Exercise is incredibly important for the body. Not only can exercise help keep risk factors for heart disease in check, but it can also help prevent other health problems as well, such as diabetes, osteoporosis and even lower back pain. Physical inactivity has become an ever-growing problem in our society, and this inactivity combined with poor eating habits has been associated with the rise in heart disease.

  • Pre-existing Conditions: While certain lifestyle habits can lead to hypertension and high cholesterol, these conditions and other health problems may also be pre-existing conditions which can lead to heart disease. Sometimes individuals may have no known cause for hypertension or high cholesterol, and these conditions may then inevitably lead to heart disease. Diabetes and obesity are also associated with an increased risk of heart disease. While many of these conditions and their association to heart disease can be viewed as cyclical in nature, it is important to remember that many risk factors can be modified through incorporating healthy lifestyle changes!
  • Stress – An increase in stress, especially prolonged stress, puts a strain on physical and mental well-being. Stress can be especially harmful to the heart and can even cause damage to arteries.
  • Interestingly, there is a link between gum disease and certain types of heart disease. Poor dental hygiene is incredibly important not just for the sake of one’s teeth, but also because gum disease can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries, heart attack and stroke!

Lifestyle Changes and Factors You Can Control:

  • First and foremost, educate yourself and learn what your personal heart health risks are! See your physician and get your stats on cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose levels and more. A full chemistry panel can give you much needed health information. Obtain as much information as possible on family history and identify any underlying health risks and conditions. Knowledge and understanding your risk is the first step to battling heart disease!
  • Since smoking is an automatic risk factor for stroke and heart attack, one of the best things you can do for your health is to stop if you are a smoker. While quitting can definitely be a challenge for many people, there are resources available to help you stop. One of the many resources available includes the Wyoming Quit Tobacco Program, which can be found on the QuitNet web site:  http://www.wy.quitnet.com/qnhomepage.aspx?cl=wy
  • Practice good hygiene and pay special attention to dental health!
  • Seek out resources to learn more about healthy eating. There are certain foods that can help increase “good” cholesterol, and certain foods that can help lower “bad” cholesterol. Certain types of fat are better than others, and food substitutes for lowering cholesterol are also available. A healthy diet can do amazing things for the body, and knowledge of personal nutrition is a great step in preventing heart disease and other health problems.
  • Incorporate Movement – One of the best things you can do for your overall health is exercise, even if that means walking at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, or getting in short bursts of activity a few times throughout your busy day. The point is to move and increase your heart rate, and also maintain a healthy weight. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Increasing physical activity is associated with a wealth of health benefits including lower blood pressure, increased strength and energy, improved circulation, reduction in risk for heart attack and stroke, and much more. Exercise can also help alleviate stress and depression, which in turn helps lower risk for heart problems. **Always consult your physician before beginning an exercise program, especially if you have pre-existing health problems.

While heart disease is an increasing problem for men and women, there are many things you can do to lower your risk and improve overall health! Get the info, know your stats, and incorporate healthy lifestyle habits whenever possible.

This information is provided courtesy of the Wyoming AgrAbility Project. For more information, visit our website or call toll-free at 866-395-4986.

Information obtained and adapted from the American Heart Association web site: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/

and the health information pages on heart disease from the Mayo Clinic web sitehttp://www.mayoclinic.com/health-information/

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