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Some Matters of the Heart You Can Control


Every single person-young or old, male or female-needs to be concerned about cardiovascular disease. It is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. The term "cardiovascular disease" primarily includes coronary heart disease and stroke, but also includes congenital cardiovascular defects, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, approximately 61,800,000 Americans have one or more type of cardiovascular disease, and over half of them are women. To put this statistic in perspective, about every 29 seconds an American will suffer a coronary event and about every minute someone will die
from one.

The good news about heart disease is that it can be prevented.

Although there are some risk factors associated with heart disease that we cannot influence, such as heredity, gender and increasing age, there are many factors that we can control. Mary Pfenning, a registered nurse and coordinator of St. Luke's Hospital's Heart Club, a group that educates others about heart disease and offers a support network to those suffering from it, offers some advice.

"Preventing heart disease does not require special medical skills or knowledge," said Pfenning. "It means taking care of yourself. These are the basic steps to good health that will help you in so many other immediate aspects of your life."

Pfenning, in conjunction with the American Heart Association, suggests the following steps to proactively fight cardiovascular disease:
  1. Quit Smoking
    Yes, we'll say it again-smoking has no health benefits. It puts those who smoke at twice the risk of a heart attack than those who do not. It might be difficult to quit smoking, but there is help. St. Luke's Hospital offers a six-week smoking cessation course to help you become a nonsmoker. Call 314-542-4848 for details.
  2. Know your numbers
    Visit your primary physician annually and get to know the numbers that are important to your good health, including cholesterol levels and blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that screenings should begin at age 20 and occur every five years, increasing frequency with age and/or higher risk factors such as smoking and family history. If you are over the age of 50, or you are a woman going through menopause, you should be screened annually.
  3. Get Moving
    Physical inactivity can put you at risk for coronary heart disease and can be easily overcome by making exercise a regular part of your week. "Exercise helps in so many aspects of life," said Pfenning. "It decreases the level of body fat, fights obesity, reduces stress, controls diabetes and helps maintain good blood cholesterol levels-all of which reduce your chance of heart disease."
  4. Relax
    Reducing stress could help lower your susceptibility to heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, some scientists have found links between coronary heart disease and a person's stress level. Stress can negatively affect other risk factors such as overeating or increased smoking.
  5. Cut the Fat
    Eating right and maintaining a healthy weight are critically important in fighting heart disease. What you eat can influence those important numbers-cholesterol and blood pressure. And those who carry too much excess weight are in danger of developing problems due to increased strain on the heart.
  6. Get Informed
    Ask family members about the history of heart disease and stroke in your family. Although you cannot change your family history, you can use this information to better control your current risk factors. Talk to your doctor and together decide how to effectively combat this deadly disease.