Heart health not just a February focus

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Although National Heart Month is winding down, keeping the heart healthy is a year-round responsibility.

"The heart takes a lot of abuse from us every day, and every day it's working," said Dr. Mark Jacoby, a cardiologist with Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital. "Each day we don't take care of it, we're damaging it over time."

Cardiovascular issues, including heart attacks, coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmia and more can happen to everyone. It is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., killing about 600,000 Americans each year, according to The Heart Foundation.

"Anyone can get coronary heart disease, no matter how healthy you are, but you can lower your risks by doing basic things," Jacoby added.

Lifestyle choices and heredity are the main factors for heart health, according to Jacoby and fellow cardiologist, Dr. Harold Moores.

"The important and critical things are lifestyle changes — alcohol in moderation, stop smoking, exercise regularly, eating well and watching the fat intake — all the things that we already know about, but don't do because for whatever reason we don't have time or we get bored," Moores said. "Also, preventative care, seeing a physician on a regular basis is important to have."

Jacoby stressed the dangers of smoking and why it's important for people to quit.

"If you smoke, it doubles your risk of heart attack," he said. "The reality is it's a huge public health hazard for all of us, but it's something you can change."

Once a person is used to a certain lifestyle, it can be difficult to make the switch.

"These life changes really are hard. We're all so busy and have obligations, but we need to prioritize our health a bit more and take it seriously," Jacoby added.

Paying attention to one's body is an important step to learning signs of danger, Moores added. Symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness when standing can be warnings of heart problems and should be checked by a physician. Signs vary between men and women.

Heredity also is important to take into consideration concerning heart health.

"If you have immediate family members who have signs or symptoms or heart conditions, you can pretty much assume that you might, too," Moores added.

Associated diseases or issues, including high blood pressure or cholesterol, and diabetes also increase risk of coronary artery disease. Prevention of one condition can ultimately prevent others. Obesity is one of the most prevalent issues that creates other health problems.

"If you can minimize or lose weight, you can usually get your blood pressure and diabetes under control and won't need medications," Moores said. "You decrease the strain on your heart, your kidneys, your brain and your joints. You increase your life span."

Taking control of heart health is an option for people at every age and ability, Jacoby said. Any type of healthy diet change or increased level of exercise is beneficial.

"We're all athletes, no matter how old we get," he added. "Your body will respond to what you ask it to do. Never give up, try lots of things and have some variety."

For those who have difficulty running or walking on typical surfaces due to joint problems, water aerobics are a great way to lessen the stress on the body while receiving a great workout. In the cold months, cross-country skiing or ice skating can be fun options for cardio exercise. Getting out in groups helps keep motivation high, Jacoby added.