February is the month for lovers and it also American Heart Month.  To recognize Heart Month, I invited a friend and nurse colleague, Rajitha Bommakanti, RN, CCM, Health Coach, and Patient Advocate to be a guest writer for this week’s post.

Rajitha Bommakanti, RN, CCM, Health Coach, and Patient Advocate Rajitha has been practicing nursing for over 27 years in various medical specialties. She started her career at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC, where she worked with medical-surgical patients, heart, and lung transplant patients, critical care, and dialysis patients. In 2010 she moved to Atlanta and worked as dialysis clinic administrator. In 2013 she started working for Emory Healthcare Center as a case manager.

In her nursing journey, Rajitha has seen gaps in patient care and barriers which caused people to have complex life-changing medical conditions. She saw how one thing leads to another and the impact chronic medical conditions had on her patient’s quality of life.  She wanted to make a difference so she is moving into a health coaching business where she will have the opportunity to educate and empower people to make small changes to their lives to improve their health. Her company is called Healthy You Lifestyle Center.

In this week’s post, Rajitha shares information on how small changes can lead to a healthy heart! Take time to read this post and then write down the steps you will commit to changing your life!

Heart Disease is the #1 Cause of Death in the United States.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States of America. Each year one in four deaths are due to heart disease. Nearly half of all adults in the United States have some link to cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Healthcare facilities around the country celebrate Heart Month to raise awareness about heart disease. This is a good time for all of us to make a commitment to make small changes in our lives that will allow us to lead to a life of heart health.

Cardiovascular disease refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.

Heart disease is one form of cardiovascular disease. Other conditions include congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and rheumatic heart disease. Typically heart disease does not have a cure, it is a lifelong condition that requires management and continuous medical attention. With the progression of the disease, the condition of the blood vessels will steadily worsen unless changes are made to daily lifestyle habits.

This image lists the common warning signs of a heart attack for men and women.  When a person experiences these warning signs getting to the emergency room is important so treatment can be started. Treatment and procedures can help blood and oxygen to flow to the heart preventing damage to the heart muscle but time is of the essence. Recognizing these warning signs are important as is getting medical help.

 Conditions that put a person at high risk for heart disease are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Having a history of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Uncontrolled stress or anger

Heart disease is largely preventable by making healthy choices and managing health conditions proactively. Overall the United States has made a lot of progress in slowing CVD. But we still have not yet made substantial advancement in obesity, diabetes, and unhealthy behaviors.

Individuals living with heart disease can learn to manage their condition by making positive lifestyle changes, following up with their PCP or Cardiologist and knowing where to get support and resources needed to maintain a full and productive lifestyle.

Preventing Heart Disease:

By following a healthy lifestyle, one can maintain blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars within normal limits. Doing so can lower the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

A healthy lifestyle includes choosing nutritiously balanced portions of controlled meals, maintaining body mass index range (18.5-24.9), participating in moderate physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Sleep is also important. A recent study found that adults sleeping less than seven hours showed a greater risk of death from heart disease.

Six Tips to better heart health:

  1. Try to get at least seven to eight hours of rested sleep at night is essential for heart health. For those who do not get adequate sleep at night have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  2. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that your blood pressure be less than 130/80. This is because consistent high blood pressure can damage arteries, block and interrupts the blood flow to the heart that can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, vision loss, angina, sexual dysfunction, and peripheral artery disease.
  3. Consuming low salt diet, foods that are rich in potassium, regular exercise, avoiding smoking, and staying within a healthy weight are all are good for the heart and will help control blood pressure.
  4. Cholesterol levels rise by eating foods that are high in saturated fats. Many foods naturally have saturated fats, the majority are from animal sources. Replace foods that are high in saturated fats with healthier options, which can lower cholesterol levels.
  5. If you have diabetes, it is important you are followed by a doctor or diabetic nurse educator to help you to control blood sugar levels to avoid potential complications such as kidney disease, vision problems, nerves dysfunction, and heart disease. Diabetes and heart disease risks are closely related so healthy choice for diabetes mean healthy choice for heart and vice versa.
  6. Exercise is important. Many people say they can’t exercise as they can’t afford a gym membership. Exercise does not have to be in a paid gym. Paid memberships at the gym and stepping on cardio machines are totally optional. Any type of physical activity can be counted towards an exercise goal. 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity a week could prevent one in 12 deaths, and one in 20 cases of cardiovascular disease, according to a large international study published last year.

Diet is Important

Today there is a lot of talk about a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet does not mean it is a vegetarian diet, it does not necessarily exclude animal-derived foods. The focus of the plant-based diet is grains, vegetables, fruits, dried beans, and nuts. When following a plant-based diet you may also include limited amounts of fish, meat, poultry, and dairy products.

There are many types of plant-based diets. The one that is most talked about for its impact on heart health is the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the MIND diet. These diets have plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol. These diets also reduce the risk of diabetes and help maintain a healthy weight.

The key to any lifestyle change is setting realistic goals. Also finding fun and active ways of doing everyday tasks such as cleaning can also help. Think about turning mundane tasks like cleaning into a dance party! Turn the music up and dance as you clean. An increase in activity levels helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Making simple changes in your diet such as replacing white rice with brown rice or whole grains. Another option is to replace white bread with whole grain bread. Instead of processed cereal, choose oatmeal, and water instead of juice drinks. Weight is not always predictable, and it does not tell the whole story. Weight loss can be achieved in an unhealthy way, so try and find a plan that you start with healthy habits.

A Case Study

Frank, is an IT professional who has worked a sedentary job most of his career. He loves food, always eats out in fancy restaurants, loves watching movies with a large bucket of butter smattered popcorn and tall soda.

He has a strong family history of heart disease. He was overweight, like his parents. Like many, most of Frank’s family events centered around food.

One Sunday evening Frank had gone to bed early so that he’d be fresh for an international business flight the next morning. He was feeling awful when he woke up and tried to get to the bathroom. The next thing he knew he was in the emergency room where he was told he was suffering a heart attack. He was rushed for a cardiac catheterization where two stents were placed.

Frank said that, up until the day he went to the hospital, he thought he was just fine. After he had the stents implanted, he said he realized that he was going to change his lifestyle or else his outcome was not going to be good for him or his family. He said, “I realized I hadn’t gotten there overnight, my lifestyle was a big contributor and it occurred over a long period of time.” Frank committed to make small lifestyle changes and learn how to manage his heart disease.

One Year Later

In the year since Frank heart attack, he has made small changes to his life. He has lost 60 pounds and his cholesterol, blood pressure and Hemoglobin A1C are all within normal! He was living his life while successfully managing his heart disease.

Thank you for reading Nurse Advocate. I hope this post provides you with information that will prompt you to make small changes that will improve your heart health. If you have made changes to your life and have seen positive results, feel free to share them in the comment section.

I would like to thank Rajitha for writing this Blog Post. Rajitha is setting up her practice as a health coach to work with clients directly who want to improve their health and wellness. To learn more, visit her website at https://healthyoucenter.com or email her at [email protected] to book a time to talk.

Have a good week!

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