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For Better Living – Be Heart Smart!

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By: Sandra R. Cain

February is American Heart Month, a time to turn our thoughts to scientific matters of the heart. Cardiovascular diseases, those diseases of the circulatory system, are still America’s number one killer. According to estimates, over 52 million Americans have the disease. Based on mortality rate data, more than 2200 Americans die of Cardiovascular disease each day, an average of 1 death every 39 seconds.

The good news is you can fight back against heart disease. You can become more heart smart. Do this by practicing the three R’s: reduce, recognize and respond.

REDUCE your risk with these steps:

Have your cholesterol checked. The risk of heart disease rises as blood cholesterol levels increase. To minimize your risk, eat a healthful diet that includes foods low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low fat milk products.
Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload causing the heart to enlarge and weaken over time. If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to control it. Eating a proper diet, losing weight, exercising regularly, restricting sodium intake and following a program of medication may all be prescribed to lower blood pressure and keep it within healthy limits.

If you’re a Smoker–Stop! Smoking greatly increases your heart disease risk. When you quit smoking, within three years your risk of heart disease will be about the same as if you never smoked.
Stay physically active. Walking briskly 3 or 4 times a week for just 30 minutes can help condition your heart, control your blood pressure and increase your HDL, your “good” cholesterol. Even being active for 10 minutes 3 times a day brings benefits.

Get regular medical checkups. Follow your doctor’s advice. If you need medication to control your blood pressure, cholesterol, or for some other health problem, take it exactly as prescribed.
RECOGNIZE a heart attack. The symptoms of a heart attack vary, but the usual warning signs are: Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes. Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms. Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

RESPOND to a heart attack. If you notice one or more of these signs, don’t wait. Get medical help fast! Call 911. It’s important to realize that not all of these signs occur in every heart attack. In some cases, the symptoms subside and then return.