Matters Of The Heart

Take Action Now To Avoid Problems Later

Posted: February 16, 2013

As our hardest-working muscle, it’s worthy of protecting.

But our hearts may be under appreciated: One in every four deaths is due to heart disease, according to the Center for Disease Control.

A month mainly focused on feelings of the heart, February is also American Heart Month. Here, Maria Hostetter, registered nurse and Rockingham Memorial Hospital Heart Health Navigator, shares the threats to a healthy heart, and ways to minimize common, preventable risks.

Major risks:
While a bun in the oven may make young mothers’ hearts feel as if they’re ready to overflow, pregnancy carries increased risk for heart health.

Gestational diabetes, caused by elevated blood sugar, often manifests without serious symptoms, but can affect both mother and child after delivery if serious and left untreated, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Blood pressure may also be elevated during pregnancy in otherwise healthy women.

Pre-diabetes is another risk factor Hostetter notes — for young women especially — as well as a set of factors known as “metabolic syndrome,” often associated with lifestyle choices.

If later in life the diabetes diagnosis becomes reality, it’s important for women to find a health care provider they can trust for support, says Hostetter.

Preventative measures:
For both genders, Hostetter emphasizes the importance of quitting smoking; for women especially, it increases the risk of heart disease two to four times.

Exercise is also vital for men and women, cutting the risk in some cases by half. “A key area for older women is that they’re not as attune to going to a gym,” Hostetter notes. “You can’t underestimate the benefits of a walk on a regular basis: three to five days a week of walking or moving.”

So, take a friend, pet or family member for a stroll to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Balanced eating plans are also essential for fueling a heart-happy lifestyle, rather than yo-yo dieting: a lean protein and fiber-rich food should be part of every meal and snack.

Sleep, says Hostetter, is also undervalued by many people when thinking about heart health, but getting six to eight quality hours of rest is essential.

“It’s a major problem for women,” she says. “But it gives us the energy to carry out a healthy lifestyle ... and offers a healthy mind and mood.”

Major risks:

For young men, especially, flexing their heart-muscles long-term might mean cutting back on a few overindulgences.

Consuming excessive alcohol — more than one or two drinks per day, says Hostetter — raises the risk for a gamut of factors, including pre-diabetes, high triglyceride levels, central weight gain, metabolic syndrome and depression. All this, she adds, can occur by the late 20s.

Eating a burger with that daily beer only compounds the problem. “Men believing they need red meat every day raises their risk for heart disease,” says Hostetter, along with too high consumption of animal products and full-fat dairy in general.

“It’s important for men to understand the protein needs of their body,” she says. As much protein can be found in nuts, seeds and legumes, without raising cholesterol.

Preventative measures:
Doing curls is great for biceps, but cardio is essential for a fit heart, says Hostetter — an area of fitness many men are tempted to neglect.

“We know that fit men live nine more quality years of life,” she says. “And fitness is for life.”

As with women, quality and quantity of sleep are essential. Bear-sized snores might seem like signs of a peaceful sleep, but apnea can interrupt oxygen and deep sleep continuously throughout the night.

Hostetter recommends scheduling a sleep study if apnea is suspected. “It’s treatable, and for these men, once it’s detected and successfully treated, blood pressure lowered, they have energy ... it’s a game changer,” she says.

“It’s not too late to become who we want to be,” she encourages. “Prevention is possible at any age.”

Contact Samantha Cole at (540) 574-6274 or

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