Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Latest on Heart Health

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by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner

Do you know your long-term risk for heart attack or stroke? Find out and act accordingly …

Cardiovascular disease remains a top killer in our super-sized nation. Hence, since 1963, the president has declared February to be American Heart Month. With the goal of uncovering risk factors and sharing healthy habits, this month asks us to consider how we treat this muscular organ.

New guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology offer a more aggressive approach to heart disease prevention. Based on the latest research, experts revised recommendations. Essential updates include:

  • treatment of obesity,
  • use of cholesterol-lowering medication,
  • nutrition and exercise plans.


A sedentary lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Your heart loves a commitment to exercise. Exercise strengthens it, just as any other muscle, along with the entire cardiovascular system. Blood circulation and oxygen use improves. Physical activity becomes less of a strain, which reduces fatigue and allows more physical activity and formal exercise.

Workouts for heart health should focus on cardiovascular exercises. Aerobic in nature, these deliver the biggest benefits to the heart and lungs. Long-term gains include easier breathing, lower resting heart rate, and lower blood pressure.

40 minutes, 4 times weekly.
40 minutes, 4 times weekly.

Approximately one-third of adult Americans have elevated bad cholesterol and two-thirds have high blood pressure. Considering this population, the new guidelines urge 40 minutes of moderate to intense exercise, three to four times weekly.

Not yet ready for Boxing Camp or Zumba? Low-impact exercise regimens also can improve those elevated numbers. Consider aquatic exercise, give the elliptical equipment your best, or investigate an interesting Group Fitness class. (See the Center’s Web site for the latest Group Fitness schedule.) Take advantage of the Center’s aquatic offerings. Swimming has shown to be a powerful cholesterol-lowering activity.

Find something you enjoy and engage in it. This will make it easier to remain committed and quicker to accomplish results. Weight training is also valuable and can complement the cardio aspect of your workout. If you have experienced heart failure, please obtain clearance with your physician prior to beginning an exercise program.


The new guidelines focus on eating an overall heart-healthy diet. Rather than picking from the latest trend of “good” and “bad” foods, focus on enjoying more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts. We are advised to worry less about occasional indulgences. If you are eating well-balanced and overall healthy, treats should have an insignificant impact, especially for a healthy individual.

Limit it!
Limit it!

Sodium intake, particularly from processed food and restaurant entrees, is a large culprit in America’s high rate of cardiovascular disease. Limit to a maximum of 2,400 milligrams (ideally 1,500) of sodium daily to help lower blood pressure. The average American adult consumes about 3,600 milligrams daily. Be a label reader. You will be amazed at where salt, and sugars, are hidden.

Take What Is Needed

Many are reluctant to begin medication to help lower dangerous cholesterol levels. Perhaps it is the fear of a lifelong drug needed to maintain health. It could be reluctance to “give up the fight” on our own plan to eat better and exercise more.

Fact: For those who have a high LDL (bad) cholesterol because the liver is producing too much cholesterol on its own, medication may be the best solution. This population may be fit, firm, and eating healthy. They’ve already achieved a healthy lifestyle through exercise and proper diet. Yet, they need further intervention to help lower LDL level.

The new guidelines revised the use of statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs, for use in the estimated 33 million Americans who do not have cardiovascular disease but do have a 7.5 or higher percent risk for heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years. This is a large shift from the 2002 federal cholesterol guidelines, which recommended statin use only if a person’s 10-year risk level was higher than 20 percent. The new guidelines consider stroke risk as well as heart disease.

Speak with your physician about your 10-year risk. The new guidelines, with broader considerations, indicate many more individuals could benefit from the use of statins.

Treat Obesity as a Disease

More than simply being “overweight,” obesity has grave implications on one’s health. The new guidelines suggest healthcare providers actively help patients accomplish, and maintain, a healthy weight. Clinical research proves successful outcomes are more likely under the guidance of a trained professional in a healthcare setting.

Obesity screening and behavior counseling is warranted with its newly established disease classification. Professionals are asked to rethink weight issues. Obesity is not a reflection of weakness. The underlying issues involve a person’s relationship with food and fitness. At this level, assistance is often needed to provide guidance for adapting healthful behaviors to achieve ideal weight. The latest research further proves the benefits of weight loss, even for those with only one other risk factor for obesity-related health problems.

For the first time, the guidelines provide specific steps to losing weight, and maintaining that loss. With about 78 million American adults considered obese, the tool for determining body mass index (BMI) should be getting a workout. Unlike a bathroom scale that measures pounds, a BMI indicator is based on height and weight and focuses on actual body fat amounts.

Generally, a BMI of 30 or more is defined as obese and in need of treatment. This goes beyond a simple suggestion of increased exercise and less chips. Visit the Center nurse to determine your BMI. Use it to motivate your efforts on the Exercise Floor. We continue to discover obesity’s negative impact on heart health, and the body as a whole.

African-American Statistics

Rodney Robinson, picAt greater risk for heart attacks and stroke, African-Americans were highlighted in the current guidelines. The new equations enable physicians to calculate cardiovascular risk specifically in this population.

Healthcare providers no longer have to assess African-Americans based on research performed on the less-at-risk white population. The current risk-assessment guidelines also are more accurate because they include stroke risk factors. This benefits all populations.

New Frontiers

The ability to take new approaches to studies performed continues to instill confidence in the guidelines provided by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Discoveries lead to breakthroughs for better health. It’s exciting to wonder what will be recommended next. Hopefully, a follow-up on the benefits of wine and chocolate to heart health!


Image Credits

Tomato heart (introductory photo):

Interval training:

Salt shaker:



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