Highlights from American Heart Association and Regence BlueShield conversation on heart health
February is American Heart Month, and Regence BlueShield partnered with the American Heart Association to host a virtual panel discussion this week with local medical experts to answer questions about heart health.
We captured the highlights from the event, moderated by Regence market President Claire Verity, to help get you started on your heart health journey.
Life’s Essential 8
Life’s Essential 8 are the key measures for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health, which helps lower the risk for heart disease, stroke and other major health problems. Life’s Essential 8 are: eat better, be more active, quit tobacco, get healthy sleep, manage weight, control cholesterol, manage blood sugar and manage blood pressure. The 8 critical focus areas cover two major themes: health behaviors and health factors.
“For many of us, Life’s Essential 8 is what we all already know – but it’s sometimes easier said than done,” said Dr. Shahriar Heidary, a cardiologist at Sea Mar Community Health Centers. “All 8 focus areas help your heart beat all the beats that it needs to do.”
Know your numbers
High blood pressure is a silent killer, with people potentially going as long as 15 years without seeing its effects, said Dr. Mary Ann Bauman, board president of the American Heart Association, Western States Region. However, complications are increasingly showing up in younger people.
“Your blood pressure is the single most important indicator of stroke and other heart health conditions,” Heidary said. “About half the people in the United States have high blood pressure – it’s incredibly prevalent, but very easy to diagnose. You just need to know your numbers – visit the pharmacy, the fire department, your doctor or even buy a blood pressure monitor to keep at home.”
Lifestyle plays a big role in heart health, from sleep to exercise and, of course, diet. “I try to make it simple: eating more fruit and veggies, less red meat, more beans, adding fish to your diet a couple of times a week,” Bauman said. “Eating out at restaurants less also has a high impact on your health; dishes at restaurants often have high fat, high sugar, high salt content.”
Lack of sleep can increase your cardiovascular risk, too. “What we’ve realized is that you have a much lower chance of chronic diseases if adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night,” Bauman said. “I always encourage good sleep hygiene – have a consistent sleep schedule and set the temperature in your room between 60-67 degrees. Looking at your smart phone is so tempting. But you have to resist.”
Heart month is a great reminder of the importance of knowing CPR and how it can save lives in an emergency. About 350,000 people experience a heart attack outside of the hospital setting each year. “The biggest reason is because people don’t know the warning signs and they hesitate, questioning if what their loved one is experiencing is indeed a heart attack. I always say -- don’t die of doubt. Learn CPR and take action immediately,” she said.
Heidary said Hands-only CPR works, too, and can save a life. “Follow the two steps to save a life: call 911 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest,” he said.
Heart health is really about living well, Bauman said.
“I have a patient who is soon celebrating her 100th anniversary – she is still walking a mile or two every day, and she’s still dancing. She lives a happy life free from complications – that’s really my understanding of what it means to be heart healthy.”
Small steps can help you prevent heart diseases, which is what it’s all about, Heidary said, and preventing a heart attack is much better than going through one.