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Heart health supporters seeing red in February
If you watched the news on Channel 4 Feb. 6, you noticed that all the women wore red dresses and the men red ties. They were celebrating “Go Red for Women Day” sponsored by the American Heart Association.
Go Red for Women is the Heart Association’s campaign to make us more aware of the symptoms women have when experiencing a heart attack and the causes, so we will get help immediately if we have one.
Every year too many people die from heart attacks, often with no prior symptoms. In fact the Heart Association says 870,000 people in the United States die each year, with 450,000 of those being women. I think that is a scary number, but, luckily, it is a number we can change.
I just had my annual physical, something you should all do – man or woman. One of the things our doctors do as part of a physical is order a series of blood tests. These tests tell the doctor an amazing amount of information about us, some of which you absolutely should know.
Various tests tell how your kidneys and liver are functioning, your blood sugar level, how your body handles proteins and all sorts of other information.
Some of the information is a series of numbers you need to know and keep a record of. For instance, you need to know your cholesterol level. There are three numbers within your cholesterol level:
1. the basic level of your overall cholesterol
2. Your HDL (High Density Lipid Protein) number – It is the “healthy” or good cholesterol which acts as a “roto rooter” to help keep your arteries clear of plaque.
3. Your LDL (Low Density Lipid Protein) number – It is your “lousy” or bad cholesterol that builds up in vessels and arteries. It is sticky and can clog your arteries and lead to a heart attack.
Another number you need to know is your triglyceride number. Triglycerides can also help clog your arteries, with high numbers often found in people who eat a very fatty diet.
If your cholesterol is too high your doctor may prescribe a daily medication to help lower the numbers. However, he or she is going to make other suggestions, too.
The first recommendation your doctor will give you is to change the way you eat. Some of you will find this very challenging. Out go fast food, sugary desserts, most red meat, non-diet pop, boxed crackers, cookies and treats, ice cream, mayonaisse and butter. In come more fruits and veggies, nuts, fish and chicken and olive oil. You may find it easiest to make the transition over a month, gradually eliminating the “unhealthy” foods.
The second recommendation will be to get some exercise. Walking is a no-cost form of exercise that will get your endorphins (“feel-good” hormones) flowing and your heart pumping harder. You may even get a bit sweaty and that is good.
How far should you walk? Walk as far as you can without getting completely exhausted. This may mean half a block to start, gradually adding more distance until you are walking a mile or more. We live in towns ideal for walking, with flat, level streets; both Buckley and Enumclaw have walking trails and Bonney Lake has shopping areas that can be used as a safe, flat place for walking.
You can also join a gym or wellness center to take senior aerobic and strength class and use their exercise equipment to make yourself stronger.
The final number you should know is your blood pressure, with 120/80 being the ideal. Very high blood pressure, along with plugged coronary (heart) arteries, can lead to heart attacks which, remember, cause 450,000 women’s deaths each year. If your blood pressure if too high, your doctor will discuss ways you can lower it, everything from taking medication and exercising to learning new ways to deal with stress.
There are a few more things you need to know in addition to your numbers. You need to know that the symptoms a man experiences while having a heart attack are not necessarily the same as those a woman experiences. A man may experience:
1. Pain in his chest that lasts a long time;
2. Pain in his arms, neck, jaw or back;
3. Lightheadedness, nausea and/or sweating.
Women may experience these, too, but they often feel fatigue, nausea and shortness of breath, all of which we can blame on “the flu” or working too hard.
You must always call 911 to get the medics to your home to help you. Waiting too long can cause severe problems for your health and your future recovery. It may turn out to be something else, but they want you to call – you are not bothering them.
Finally, we need to examine our attitude and, if it is negative, try to change it to a positive one. If you find yourself saying things such as, “It used to take me 15 minutes to ________, but now it takes me 40 minutes,” or “I used to be able to go all the time, but now I need a nap nearly every day,” or “All I do is take pills,” or “I get winded doing hardly anything at all,” you need an attitude adjustment towards a healthier life.
Yes, it takes most of us longer to do things. Yes, some of us need a nap and take pills. Yes, some of us get winded. However, if we are older and retired, we have the luxury of time – time to spend if it takes us longer to do things, time for a nap and time to pace ourselves.
We have to practice in order to achieve better health by gradually eliminating foods that may taste good but damage our hearts, by doing exercise like walking in order to help unclog our arteries and by reminding ourselves that we are good people capable of doing lots of things. Changing to a healthier diet and exercising will both give us more energy.
We need to take charge of our health, especially women, so we will not become a statistic, but, rather, will be here next year to wear red on the first Friday in February.
Step out, seniors, and into good health.