February serves as American Heart Month

Staff Writer

February serves as American Heart Month, sponsored by the American Heart Association, to raise awareness of the leading cause of death of Americans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States each year, which is about one out of every four deaths, making it the leading cause of death for men and women in the country.

About 790,000 people have a heart attack each year, which is when blood supply is cut off to the heart, according to the CDC. Symptoms of a heart attack include: chest pain and discomfort, upper body discomfort, shortness of breath and occasionally cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

"It is the leading cause of death in Mississippi," Okitbbeha County Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation Director Jordan Vance said. "A little over one-third of the deaths in Mississippi can be traced back to heart disease."

Vance said Mississippians are at risk for heart disease because of the culture and lifestyle in the state, including diets full of fats, cholesterols, salts and sugars.

"Mississippi has a very high rate of diabetes, and people with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack than someone who doesn't have diabetes," Vance said. "We have several hundred thousand people with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke."

Vance said learning about heart-healthy nutrition, including salt intake and portion control, is crucial for maintaining heart and overall health.

"Many people think that they're not eating too much sodium because they're not putting a lot of salt on their foods, but about 75 to 80 percent of salt intake doesn't come from a salt shaker, it comes from the food itself," Vance said.

Processed foods, fast food, frozen dinners and canned foods are loaded with sodium, Vance said, and one meal alone can contain more than the daily recommended intake of sodium.

"A heart patient should have no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium in a whole day, and you can look at a frozen dinner and it will have that much sodium or more in one frozen dinner," she said.

According to Vance, the recommend sodium intake for a person without heart disease is 2,300 milligrams daily.

Vance said portion and serving sizes are also important in maintaining heart health. For example, a portion size of meat for one meal should be three ounces, or about the size of a deck of playing cards. However, most steaks are eight ounces are larger.

"You may get a small bag of chips or can of soup, but that one bag or can may have two servings in it," she said.

Vance said to always remember the difference in good and bad fats, because Omega 3 fats are good for your blood vessels and body overall, while trans fats and saturated fats are not.

"Watch your salt intake cholesterol intake," she said. "Natural foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, will increase fiber intake, which promotes colon health and promotes lower cholesterol."

Along with a heathy diet, exercise is vital in maintaining a healthy heart, and Vance suggests 30 to 60 minutes of exercise three times per week.

"Find something you enjoy doing," she said. "Rather than walking on a treadmill, if that's hard for you and you don't enjoy it, take a walk outside with a friend instead. You have someone to talk to and the time passes more quickly. You'll enjoy it and look forward to it instead of it being a chore."

Vance said even getting up and doing chores around the house is good if you can't get out and get active. Cardio workouts will increase heart rate and condition the heart, but any physical activity is beneficial.

The American Heart Association also recommends getting seven hours of sleep per night, reducing stress by finding healthy outlets, not smoking and maintaining a healthy work environment to stay heart-healthy.

"Genetics have a lot to do with it, and sometimes we can't help it," Vance said. "But it is best to focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle while you're young to reduce the risk of heart issues from developing.

OCH Regional Medical Center will host a lunch-and-learn from noon to 1 p.m. on Feb. 15 in the OCH Education Facility. The event will be hosted by Vance and offer more information about how to reduce the risks of potentially deadly heart disease.