February is American Heart Month -- Here's What American In-Home Care Wants You to Know About Heart Disease
February has been recognized as American Heart Month in the United States since 1963, urging Americans to learn more about heart disease and protect themselves and others against it. Since 2004, February has also been associated with Go Red For Women, showing that heart disease affects women too and is not just a man’s problem. During American Heart Month hospitals, schools, businesses, health departments and more encourage heart health awareness and heart attack prevention tactics for women and men. Heart Health Month also encourages people to get active on social media to spread heart health statistics, facts about preventing heart disease and heart attacks, and much more. Spreading factual awareness is the main goal of the month.
What is Heart Disease
Heart disease kills over 630,000 Americans each year; 366,000 of those from coronary artery disease. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States with over 11% of Americans having been diagnosed with the disease. The most common type of heart disease is called coronary artery disease and this is what can commonly lead to a heart attack. “Heart disease” is a catch all phrase for many types of cardiovascular issues and coronary artery disease is the most common. This is usually what people are referring to when they use the term heart disease. Thankfully, you can reduce your risk for heart disease through lifestyle changes and medication. Heart disease is the term for all types of diseases that affect the heart, arteries or blood vessels that can lead to heart attacks, stroke or heart failure. Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, called atherosclerosis. Plaque is formed of cholesterol, calcium and some other substances found in the blood. Plaque reduces the amount of oxygenated blood that is able to reach the heart and cause blood clots, which block blood flow entirely.
Heart Attack and Symptoms
Over 800,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, with 13% dying as a result. Because early interaction is so critical in reacting to heart attacks, health organizations have spent decades trying to improve public knowledge of heart attack symptoms and appropriate emergency responses. If people can recognize the symptoms of heart attack early, they can greatly reduce their risk of developing further complications and progressing into heart disease. That is one of the major goals of Heart Health Month - to raise awareness to people around the world of how to recognize and react to a heart attack and how to reduce their risks for developing heart disease. According to a study by Shiwani Mahajan, 6% of individuals – which represents over 13.5 million adults in the U.S. – were not aware of a single symptom of a heart attack. The study found men, blacks, Hispanics, people born outside the U.S., and those with high school or lower education were significantly more likely to not be aware of any symptoms.
Your Risk for Developing Heart Disease
Your risk of developing heart disease is higher if you have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, are overweight, have diabetes, smoke, don’t get regular exercise, have unhealthy eating habits, or have a family history of heart disease. Each risk factor increases your chance of developing heart disease, so the more risks you have the greater your chance for developing the disease. Many of these are not modifiable - like age, gender and family history. But a lot of these can be helped with lifestyle changes - like eating better and exercising more.
How to Manage Your Risks
Managing your risk for heart disease involves managing your risk for each of the factors that contribute to the disease. Many of these factors you can’t change, like genetics and age, but fortunately most of them you can change with small lifestyle changes. The first is getting physical exercise. To reduce your risk, you should be getting at least two and half hours of vigorous physical activity per week - that’s only 30 minutes per day for five days of the week. In addition, you should do 2 days a week of muscle and strength training. Even if this seems like a big barrier to overcome, start smaller with 5, 10, 15 minutes per day. Some exercise is better than none. Correlated with exercising, is achieving and maintaining an appropriate weight. Obesity is known to increase your risk for heart failure so maintaining a healthy weight will greatly reduce your risk. Being overweight is hard on your heart, and it increases your risk of having heart disease, stroke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. It is also important to stay active and reduce your sedentary time, or the amount of time you spend sitting or laying down. The CDC says that 31 million “senior” adults are considered inactive. Since risk for heart failure increases with age, it is important that older adults stay active through exercise and also limit their amount of sedentary time. In a recent study that looked at women with different activity levels, the most active group were 35% less likely to develop heart failure than the group with no activity. Women who walked regularly also had a 28% lower risk of developing heart failure than those who did not walk at all.
Besides exercise, eating a heart healthy diet is critical for reducing risk of heart disease. A heart healthy diet needs to be low in sodium and saturated fats. The DASH diet is a great option for any adult trying to reduce their risk for heart disease, or neurodegenerative diseases for that matter. The DASH diet consists of eating mostly vegetables, fruits and whole grains, with small amounts of dairy, eggs, fish, beans, nuts and vegetable oils. Red meats and foods high in saturated fats or sugars should be severely limited. Learn more about the DASH diet in our Alzheimer’s management post (https://www.americaninhomecare.com/blog/2019/09/09/7802/). Stress and lack of sleep can also contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. Most adults need a solid 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
Since there is no cure for heart disease, it is important to maintain healthy behaviors after being diagnosed with heart disease as well. Maintaining the same healthy behaviors after diagnosis can prevent the disease from progressing. Since there’s no cure for heart failure, improving quality of life and outcomes are key goals of treatment. Once diagnosed, the best steps for controlling heart disease are following a heart healthy diet, increasing daily physical activity levels, reducing sedentary behavior, avoiding tobacco products, restricting sodium intake, restricting fluid intake, and starting on medication to control the heart disease (including beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and statins). With proper lifestyle changes, heart failure can be monitored and hopefully managed for a long portion of time before any changes occur. Heart disease is a scary term, but with proper lifestyle habits you can significantly reduce your chance of heart attack or developing heart disease, as well as slowly down the rate of the disease after being diagnosed.
If you or someone you know is suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease or other age specific diseases, American In-Home Care and its subsidiaries, Whitsyms In-Home Care, Advocate In-Home Care and Douglas In-Home Care can help. Visit our website to learn more about the in home health services we offer for you and your loved ones.