Dear Readers: This past week I attended the funeral of my best friend’s brother who died suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was only 49. You don’t realize how many lives one life touches until you attend a funeral. The exchange of love and support between friends and family, the stories that begin with “Remember when …?”, the laughter that softens the tears — does the dearly departed know how much he meant to other people? I sure hope so.
Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S and worldwide. There are several risk factors for this illness, some of which are listed below:
High cholesterol is defined as greater than or equal to 200 mg/dL. Your cholesterol should be monitored annually. Changes in diet and/or medication may be needed to combat elevated cholesterol.
Family history is a risk factor we cannot change, but we can be aware and be proactive. If a parent has heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, this puts you at a higher risk for all these conditions.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the workload of the heart. Blood vessels become stiff which makes it easier for plaque to build up. When there is plaque build-up, blood flow to the heart is restricted, and if left untreated, will likely lead to a heart attack.
Overweight: People with excess body fat, especially around the waist, are at increased risk for heart disease. Losing weight isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight. Get the support you need.
Physical Inactivity: People with sedentary lifestyles have higher rates of heart disease than their active counterparts. When beginning an exercise routine, start with 10 minutes a day. Increase 5 minutes per week to reach a goal of 30 minutes most days of the week. Choose an activity you enjoy so that you will be more likely to keep up the good work.
Stress: Perhaps the most cunning risk factor. We all have stress in our lives, but many of us do not have healthy coping mechanisms to deal with it. Some people overeat to comfort themselves. Others self-medicate with the alcohol. Both of these mechanisms provide temporary relief, but when the buzz or sugar high wears off, the stress remains.
More effective ways of dealing with stress include meditation, journaling, and if needed, counseling. There is no shame in needing help. After all, when you have a toothache, you see a dentist, so if you have difficulty with your emotions, see a therapist. We were never meant to walk this journey alone. If finances are a concern, seek a therapist whose fee is based on a sliding scale.
Diet: a diet high in fat, calories, and sugar will likely lead to extra pounds, which increases your risk for heart disease. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose lean meats and mono- or polyunsaturated fats.
Know your risk factors and know your numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.). Education is the first step in taking care of yourself, but education without action avails little. Start today. Time may be luxury you do not have.
Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.