Learn to love your heart | SierraSun.com

Learn to love your heart

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

February brings more than candy and cards and Valentine’s Day kisses. February is National Heart Month, a movement designed to promote heart health and the fight against heart disease.

“Heart disease is the number-one killer in America,” said Dr. David Ritchie, an internist with Sierra Multi-Specialty Medical Group. “It’s something people need to be aware of because it’s usually unknown until there is a significant problem in a patient.”

Heart disease can affect anyone, male or female, at any age, which is why education and prevention is so important, said Dr. Sandra Carter, director of health promotions at Tahoe Forest Center for Health and Sports Performance.

The Tahoe -Truckee region presents a “much healthier group of patients than I’ve ever seen because they make the effort (to stay fit),” Ritchie said.

But heart disease affects people everywhere, including in healthy communities.

“Prevention is key in dealing with heart disease,” Carter said.

This month, the Tahoe Forest Center for Health and Sports Performance offers a number of opportunities to raise awareness about the risks of heart disease, Carter said, and provides opportunities for learning about prevention. The center will have classes on how to cook healthy low-fat meals, cardiovascular fitness testing, smoking cessation classes, and heart disease screenings available at Tahoe Forest Hospital.

People can help prevent heart disease by making healthy lifestyle choices beginning at an early age, Carter said.

Recent statistics show heart disease may now affect children at a much younger age than in prior years, Ritchie said.

The childhood obesity epidemic has become an enormous issue in the United States affecting children’s heart health, Carter said. Signs of coronary plaque build-up have been found in obese children in their early teens. Coronary plaque build-up has been linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease, she said.

Some teens and young people in their 20s and 30s have “a feeling of being invulnerable” and “now you see young people smoking at a much higher rate,” Carter said. Compared to 10 years ago, the media makes smoking appear more acceptable and sophisticated today, with images of celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan puffing away on a cigarette, she said.

“All the (negative) factors combined become synergistic to an increased risk of heart disease,” Carter said.

Fighting heart disease starts with an active lifestyle. Managing an optimal body weight, exercising daily, relaxing, and not smoking are ways in which people can improve their overall health, Carter said. Taking time out of the day to relax and meditate or listen to music is a way to relieve stress and decrease the risk of developing heart disease, she said.

Other factors are important to consider as well, she said. Moderation is key when it comes to food and alcohol consumption, Carter said. Red wine and dark chocolate have been linked to heart health; however, too much can have detrimental effects on a person’s health, she said. Also, establishing a good relationship with a physician is important so the physician is aware of the patient’s lifestyle choices and any family history of heart disease, Carter said.

Scheduling regular physical exams is an important part of establishing a relationship.

People should schedule regular physical exams every two years for those under the age of 50, and yearly for those over 50, Ritchie said.

Certain factors contribute to the development of heart disease, he said, which can be avoided. Excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and obesity are all contributing factors to heart disease, Ritchie said, and are all lifestyle choices that can be avoided.

Also, due to the media’s spotlight on blood pressure and cholesterol medication many people are now reluctant to take any medication for their condition, increasing the risk of heart disease, Ritchie said. Consulting with a trusted physician cannot be emphasized enough, according to both Carter and Ritchie.

Go Red For Women is a national movement started in February 2004 that challenges women to stop heart disease ” the leading cause of death for women ” by going Red to promote heart health. The color red represents the ability all women have to improve their heart health and to live stronger, longer lives. Women can calculate their risk of heart disease by taking the Go Red Heart Check Up at http://www.goredforwomen.org.