COMMENTARY: Feeling – and filling – the need for heart health

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Brianna A. Smith

Every 34th time a clock ticks, someone in the United States has a heart attack.

Statistics show people living in Southern states, such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, show higher than average rates of cardiovascular problems.

Through a tighter lens, Memphis is the fourth most obese city in America and No. 1 among metro areas with at least a million residents.

My family, like many others, has been personally affected by the “silent killer.” In February, I lost my grandmother (Emerle Smith). Oct. 22 was the second anniversary of the passing of my father, Bernal E. Smith II.

With that context, I share these heart-health points of reference:

• Knowing if you’re at risk is a first step.

• To what you can to reduce or eliminate the risks you can control.

• See a doctor so that you have a medical professional to help watch for symptoms and to prescribe the correct medications, if needed.

Prevent or reduce risks of high blood pressure

If your doctor recommends medication, take it as prescribed. Medication doesn’t cure high blood pressure, but it can help your body manage it. You can also be part of the solution by following these six lifestyle habits recommended by the American Heart Association:

1. Eat a healthy diet, limiting salt. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, skinless poultry and fish, low-fat dairy, nuts and legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils make up a heart-healthy diet. Limit sodium by reducing processed foods such as frozen prepared meals and lunch meats. Become a label reader to look out for sodium.

2. Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking too much can raise your blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about what amount he or she thinks is safe.

3. Stay active. Create habits that encourage you to briskly move 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Walking is one of the best and easiest ways to reach your goal. Also include stretching exercises, and twice a week, do something for muscle strengthening.

4. Manage weight to prevent obesity. Being overweight puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels. You may be able to see lower blood pressure results by losing even five or 10 pounds.

5. Quit smoking or don’t smoke. Smoking and secondhand smoke increase the risk for a plaque buildup in the arteries. While a connection between smoking and high blood pressure is unclear (except for a temporary increase while smoking), not smoking is an important step for heart health.

6. Manage stress. Stress contributes to other risk factors such as overeating, a poor diet and higher alcohol consumption. Find stress-reducers that work for you such as exercise, time management techniques, communities of support and understanding your stress triggers.