Each year since 1963, February has been designated as American Heart Month. It was to bring attention to the fact that more than half the deaths in the U.S. were caused by cardiovascular disease. This is the time every year that health organizations dedicate additional resources and efforts toward educating the public on the risk factors and what can be done to minimize them.
According to WebMD, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in those over the age of 35 in 2020 in the U.S. It just has recently bypassed heart disease as the leading cause of death. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the world with more than 17.9 million deaths each year. That number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030. Heart disease is a major threat to senior health. In fact, 84% of people age 65 and older die from heart disease.
Chances are we know someone affected by heart disease and stroke because about 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day — an average of one death every 38 seconds. If we work together, we can change that!
Friday, Feb. 5, was National Wear Red Day. Wearing red on that day was to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease and save lives. Our staff wore red as well as many of the seniors that came to pick up their food boxes. We passed out a heart-healthy shopping list to all seniors and discussed heart-healthy snacks with them. As soon as it is safe, we will have a speaker come to the center to give us some ways we can be heart healthy.
Even though heart disease risks increase with age, it doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of getting older. The right lifestyle habits and a heart-healthy diet can help protect you.
First, let’s talk about the symptoms of heart disease. The warning signs of heart disease often don’t appear until you’re having a heart attack. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, immediately see your doctor.
• Feeling faint
• Weakness or sensation of light-headiness
• Having a hard time catching your breath
• Feeling nauseous or vomiting
• Feeling very full or having indigestion
• Pain in the chest or an uncomfortable pressure in the chest
• Unusual pains in the back, shoulders, or neck
• An irregular heartbeat
You can keep your heart healthy no matter how old you are, but it does take effort — possibly even changes in your everyday habits. Here are some controllable ways you can get started:
• Get enough exercise. This means at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day of the week. This also helps in weight management. We will resume our exercise classes soon at the center. We will have our exercise equipment available also.
• Quit smoking.
• Watch your numbers. Get regular checkups to monitor health conditions that affect the heart, including blood pressure checks, monitoring cholesterol and blood sugar. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can greatly damage your heart. We have regular blood pressure and blood sugar checks by Melody Anderson and Joy Daniels from Starr Regional Medical Center. We will be scheduling them again soon. When we reopen, we will check you blood pressure for you at any time.
• Eat a heart-healthy diet. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit saturated fats, salt, and foods containing cholesterol, like fatty meats. Cut out fried foods to lower cholesterol. Remember, the American Heart Association recommends that you have no more than 1,500 grams of salt per day. This equals to about 3/4 of a teaspoon. The reason you really need to limit salt is because too much causes your body to retain water, making your heart work harder, which can lead to high blood pressure.
• Get a flu shot and your COVID vaccine. Side effects from these illnesses such as coughing, low oxygen, low blood sugar, fast heart rate, and possible pneumonia may strain the heart and cause a cardiac event.
• When in public places such as shopping malls, churches and gyms, make an effort to see where their Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is located. Be sure that whoever you are with is aware of the location. In the event of a heart attack, an AED can increase the life of a victim by 75%. Please express your concern if somewhere you spend time does not have an AED and let them know how valuable it is. Our AED here at the center is in an area where it is easily seen.
And now a piece of advice from me: If you are experiencing any changes in your heart rhythm, blood pressure, or tightness in your chest, see your doctor. My family doctor found a hearth murmur. I made an appointment with my cardiologist and had tests done. I have some thickening in my left ventricle. This is caused by elevated blood pressure over a period of time. Luckily, we caught it in time and, as long as I keep my blood pressure under control, I will be fine. But left untreated, in about 15 years, I would have had heart damage. So, not taking care of even a slight rise in blood pressure over the course of time can cause heart damage. I am scheduled to be checked by my cardiologist this fall. You can be sure I will not miss this appointment. If you have an issue with your heart, please make sure to keep your appointments even if you feel good. It could save your life.
The American Heart Association is encouraging people to Take the Pledge to cut their intake of salt and lower their risk for heart disease. You can sign up on their website. When you sign up and take the pledge, you will receive tips and resources to help you protect your heart.
Nothing that you can do will prevent you from having a heart attack 100%. But if you do begin, no matter what your age, you can greatly reduce the risks that you will have a heart attack. If you won’t change some of your habits for yourself, do it for your family and loved ones. You do not want them to have to be told that you have had a heart attack that could possibly take your life. Do it for them!
Sue Walker is the executive director of the Etowah Area Senior Citizens Center. She may be reached by calling 423-781-7632.