By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
And your heart has to take you the distance.
But in Mississippi – and most of the country – there’s a lot of obstacles to healthy hearts. Lack of exercise, fat-laden foods and a higher percentage of smokers make it harder for hearts to go the distance.
“It’s a huge issue,” said New Albany family physician Dr. Jason Dees.
Reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease isn’t rocket science. There are simple things everyone should be doing. Heart disease isn’t just something old people need to worry about. Recent studies show that 20 percent of U.S. teens have high cholesterol, and that number is likely higher in Mississippi, said Tupelo cardiologist Dr. Barry Bertolet.
“You can’t wait until you’re 35,” Bertolet said, to start monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure.
In most cases, it doesn’t require a trip to the cardiologist for fancy tests. Your primary care doctor can help coach you to a healthier heart.
“It really is a team approach,” said Dees, who is part of an American Academy of Family Physicians effort to encourage a dialogue on heart health between doctors and physicians. “The sooner we catch something, the more likely we will be able to manage it … and avoid a heart attack at 45 or 50.”
Don’t worry about being perfect. Focus on making progress toward a healthier lifestyle, like taking a brisk walk every day and quitting cigarettes.
Know your numbers
Knowledge is power and for heart health, there are five sets of numbers that are key gauges of cardiovascular risk. The tests for them are simple, widely available and relatively inexpensive. Two of them don’t involve needles.
“You need to know where you are and where you need to be,” Dees said.
Every adult should know these numbers, and overweight and obese teens should talk to their doctors about getting screened too, Bertolet said.
Folks with healthy scores will likely have to repeat the tests less frequently.
• Blood pressure is a measure how hard your heart has to work. Above 140/90 mean that you are at risk for heart attack and stroke. 130/85 is considered pre-hypertensive. The ideal is 120/80 or lower.
• Body Mass Index – The heavier you are, the harder your heart has to work to move blood around your body. Under 25 is considered healthy. Over 30 is considered obese. BMI is calculated using height and weight. However, BMI can underestimate body fat in sedentary people and overestimate body fat in athletes.
• Cholesterol scores are most helpful when its broken down into LDL – the bad – and HDL – the good. LDL cholesterol creates the plaques that can erupt and block arteries causing heart attacks and strokes. Healthy people need to keep it under 130. If you have diabetes or
HDL has a protective effect on the circulatory system and can cause problems when there’s not enough of it, Bertolet said.
• Triglycerides are another lipid or fat measured in the blood and are included in a full lipid panel. This measure will fluctuate greatly depending on the carbs and saturated fats you eat, Bertolet said.
• Blood sugar is another key measure because diabetes exponentially raises the risk of heart attack or stroke. Even if you don’t have high blood sugar, you should be screened every year or two depending on your other risk factors, Bertolet said. Above 110 is considered abnormal. The ideal is below 100.
Forget drastic diets
Swear off any diet that you can’t keep up long term, Bertolet said.
“When you go back to normal after eating cabbage for a week, you’re body will remember the starvation and will store more food as fat,” Bertolet said.
A Mediterranean diet that is focused on lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Foods are steamed, grilled or baked.
Dees will often counsel is patients not to tackle every thing at once. Start by backing off sweet tea or sugary sodas that pack on the pounds. Ease off on fried foods and lots of gravy and take a brisk walk every day.
It’s all about small steps, he said.
“Next month, I don’t expect you to have lost all the weight,” Dees said. “It’s ‘What can you do between now and the next time I see you?’”
The benefits of a heart healthy life aren’t limited to those who have ideal numbers.
A 260 pound man may have an ideal weight of 180, but he can reduce his risk by dropping just 20 pounds. Bertolet said.
“If he got to 240, we would see measurable benefits,” Bertolet said, and that patient would probably need less medicine to control high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.
Here are some other tips:
• Drink a little wine; sip a little coffee. In moderate amounts – two servings of alcohol for a man and one for a woman – can have a protective effect on the heart, Bertolet said. But a little bit goes a long way; more than moderate amounts can damage the liver.
Likewise, coffee has been shown to have positive impact, especially on diabetes risk, Bertolet said. But keep it to two cups a day and watch what you put in. Lots of cream and sugar can add up to extra pounds.
• Watch the sodas. Carbonated drinks – even the diet ones – contain sodium, which can raise your blood pressure, Dees said.
• Run from transfats. These fats in partially hydrogenated oils are the worst kinds of fats, Bertolet said. They clog arteries faster than any other kind of fat, and calorie for calorie they cause people to gain more weight.
“There’s no safe level,” Bertolet said.
• Reduce your stress, especially if you tend to respond with anger. Regular exercise can help manage our response to stress.
Heart Smart Targets
Here are the ideal ranges for heart health measures. Don’t lose heart if you’re not there. Even small improvements can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
• LDL (”Bad”)
< 130 mg/dl if your otherwise healthy
< 100 mg/dl if you have vascular disease or diabetes
<70 mg/dl - optional goal
• HDL (”Good”)
> 40 mg/dl in men
> 50 mg/dl in women
< 150 mg/dl in men
< 100 in women
- Blood Pressure
- Fasting Glucose
< 100 mg/dl- Body Mass Index
Source: North Mississippi Health Services/Dr. Barry Bertolet
Heart Month Fun
Wear Red Day, part of a national women’s heart disease awareness campaign.
Women In Red Luncheon, noon, at First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall. Part of the Woman’s Place Lunchtime Learning Series. Speaker is Tupelo cardiologist Dr. Barry Bertolet. Cost is $5 for lunch; preregistration required by Feb. 10. Free blood pressure and stroke screening will be offered before the luncheon. Call (800) 843-3375.
Day of Dance for Health, 8 a.m. to noon Feb. 20 at The Orchard on Coley Road. Health screenings start at 8 a.m. Dancing begins at 9 a.m. with each dance session offering the opportunity to watch then join in. Free and open to all ages (800) 843-3375.
- Festival of Hope will be 6 to 10 p.m. Feb. 26 at Tupelo Furniture Market Building 5. The teamed-based event raises money for heart disease, cancer and diabetes patients. Free and open to public. Call (662) 377-4143 or visit www.projecthopems.com