By Eileen Casey

Right now as you are reading this article your heart is pumping away and you barely give it a thought. The average heart rate at rest is about 70 beats per minute. That’s 4,200 beats an hour or 100,800 beats a day or 36,792,000 a year. If a person lives until they are 80, then their heart will beat about 2,943,360,000 times! Even though your heart does all of this work for you, how much do you do for your heart?

Lifestyle factors like smoking, or eating a diet high in processed foods, or being a couch potato can all make your heart unhealthy. Much like performing normal maintenance on your car so you can drive it 100,000 miles or even 200,000 without problems, your heart benefits from some routine maintenance. If we expect our hearts to keep ticking nearly 3 billion beats in our lives we need to take care of it.

In the United States heart disease is a major problem. Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. About 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States each year making heart disease the leading cause of death for both men and women. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, costs the United States $312.6 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity. These conditions also are leading causes of disability, preventing people from working and enjoying family activities.

But wait, all is not doom and gloom! The situation is alarming, but there is good news—many factors in heart disease are preventable and controllable! We can start by taking small steps every day to bring our loved ones and ourselves closer to heart health. To help raise awareness about heart disease and how to become more heart healthy February has been designated American Heart Month. Cardiac Rehab Week, which is a rehab program for adopting a heart healthier lifestyle, is also recognized in February from the 10th through the 16th.

You can help prevent heart disease by making healthy choices and managing any medical conditions you may have. You can start by choosing a healthy diet. If you have a choice between those french fries or fresh vegetable, choose the vegetable! Adults should strive to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables a day. Eat foods that are low in saturated fat and salt and high in fiber. When you are eating healthy it is easier maintain a healthy weight.

Don’t smoke! Smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke, yeah you! If you do smoke, talk to your health care provider to get help with quitting. There are a number of local resources to help you quit including classes at BMH.

Monitor your blood pressure and make sure that is within a normal range. If you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, be sure to take any medication that is prescribed by your health care provider. Don’t assume that because you feel well it is OK to stop your meds.

Manage your diabetes wisely. If you are unsure about how to do this talk with your health care provider about it. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. You may benefit from meeting with a diabetes specialist or a nutritionist to help you control your diabetes better.

Exercise regularly. Exercise does so many good things for your body. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your blood pressure, improve your mood, decrease your stress, decrease pain and complaints of fatigue. So with all these things going for it, why don’t we all exercise more? Exercise is almost that magic pill we are all looking for a multitude of complaints. Don’t be intimidated and think that you must run a 5K a day or be a super athlete to benefit from exercise. Ideally the recommendation is for 30 minutes of moderate exercise (yes, that means sweating), but any activity can help and is better than sitting in front of the TV or computer eating that bag of chips or cookies. So take the stairs instead of the elevator, take that parking spot farthest from the door, walk around the block on your lunch time, take Fido out for that walk when you get home, stroll across that beautiful snowy field in snow shoes, walk to see your co-worker rather than send that email! It all helps—just pick something and start moving more. Who knows, you may find out that you want to try to run a 5K after all!

If despite your best efforts you do have a heart attack, don’t give up. There are still things that you can do to help. Cardiac rehab programs are special programs designed to help those after a heart attack or heart surgery. The staff in cardiac rehab programs will evaluate you and work to develop a plan that is right for you. Research shows that people who complete a cardiac rehab program live longer and reduce their chances of having another event. In a study conducted by Blue Cross/Blue Shield they found that 89% of people who had a heart attack and completed a cardiac rehab program had no further heart attacks. Those who didn’t complete cardiac rehab didn’t fair so well – only 32% had no further events. That means 68% of the people who didn’t do cardiac rehab had another heart attack. Cardiac rehab can be a powerful tool to help you recover and improve your well being. BMH offers a nationally certified cardiac rehab program.

So this February show your heart some love and choose to do something good for your heart so that it continues to beat 3 million beats and beyond!

For more information and tips visit the web site or contact the Cardiac Rehab Program at BMH at 802-257-8331.

Eileen Casey, PT, is the Director of Rehab Services at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. She can be reached by calling 802-257-8255.

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