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February 12, 2014

National Heart Month provides opportunity for self-analysis

By Nick Mordowanec
C & G Staff Writer

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death globally.

That should be reason enough for both men and women to examine their own lives and determine whether health is being put on the forefront or the backburner, but sometimes life gets caught in the way.

February is National Heart Month, a time for individuals to analyze whether they are doing all they can to be healthy and lead a longer life. And although cardiovascular statistics are staggering, they don’t always get everyone’s attention.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year: a ratio of one in every four deaths. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, with more than half of the deaths in 2009 occurring to men.

Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing more than 385,000 people annually. It costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity.

Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack — 525,000 of which are a first heart attack. Signs of a heart attack include: chest discomfort or pressure rather than pain; discomfort in the neck, shoulder, upper back or abdomen; pain in the jaw; shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; unexplained sweating; feeling dizzy or nauseous; and unusual fatigue.

So, what is the secret to a longer life that includes having a healthy heart in the process? It’s as simple as making realistic, actionable goals for yourself and then to develop accountability for accomplishing them.

“Seventy percent of health risks have to do with your lifestyle,” said Lisa Peters, a registered nurse and health educator at the Center for Weight Management at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Clinton Township.

“It’s not necessarily genetic. The biggest thing is eating a healthy diet. If half your plate is vegetables or fruit, and not smothered in butter and sauces, you basically cut the calories of every meal in half. Lean protein sustains everything your body needs. Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise per day is important.

“Some people think that to exercise 30 minutes or 60 minutes a day, it has to be done at one time. It can be a variety of things and times throughout day, like walking, dancing — just doing something fun.”

Patricia Jurek, a dietician and the manager of the Center for Weight Management, said that beginning to exercise is a bit of a protector for the cardiovascular system.

Heart disease has increased exponentially, as has diabetes, and 68 percent of Americans are labeled as obese. According to Jurek, as people become more overweight and diabetic, every other risk factor increases the risk of heart problems five times over.

“You want to start with what your own baseline is,” Jurek said. “If your goal is to get healthy and want something exact, it’s a good idea to track daily how many veggies and fruits you eat per day, along with exercise. A food tracker shows you in black and white what you are doing.

“You adjust the baseline and build it up as you go along. Don’t expect things to be perfect, and look at it as a lifestyle and not a New Year’s resolution that starts today and ends tomorrow.”

National Heart Month is also a time for women to acknowledge the serious risks associated with the cardiovascular system. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. And while heart disease death rates have declined over the last 30 years, the decline has been slower for women. They are less likely than men to survive a heart attack.

Awareness has occurred nationally in the form of the “Go Red for Women” campaign, and that is because signs of heart issues are more difficult to discover in females.

“Disease for women is frequently under-diagnosed,” said Klaudia Plawny-Lebenbom, an internal medicine specialist at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital. “(Women) don’t have strong angina, no numbness or tenderness. They might have abdominal pain or discomfort and disregard it.”

Plawny-Lebenbom said that obesity is the variable in the entire equation. Without proper physical activity, risks immediately increase.

“I stress how obesity is causing diabetes and all the problems,” she said. “Increase physical activity and become properly educated on exercise.

“It’s a very difficult time to exercise because of the weather. Pick a different time or come up with creative ways. Go to the mall and walk. Fast walking is a very good physical activity.”

Personalized diet plans are also an integral part of the process.

“Everything in moderation,” Plawny-Lebenbom said. “Patients will go and eat whatever they feel like, but you want balance and portion control.”

Jurek said that people stop because they don’t really look at and identify what their goals might be. For example, little things like substituting a liquid fat (olive oil) for a solid fat (butter) can instantly make your decisions healthier ones. It’s about making a conscious effort to be more responsible.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nick Mordowanec at nmordowanec@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.