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5 Steps to Reduce Your Chance of A Heart Attack

There are a lot of things you can do even if you did inherit some “bad genes” from Dad.

#1- Exercise

 senior exercise group

Are you groaning about now?  You've heard it before and I'm saying it again. Exercise is one of the best ways to keep your heart working efficiently and effortlessly. It's important, however, if you have health issues to check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise program.

 Joan started exercising for the first time at age 68. Luckily, she hasn't had any physical problems. But her best friend had a major heart attack.

“Valerie was in the hospital for quite a while and I saw what she went through. It wasn't pretty. That's when I decided it was time to get a handle on my own life. I've never really exercised before. And I have been pretty much a couch potato. I like to read and watch a good amount of television. And while I wasn't obese, I was carrying the extra weight, especially around the middle area. And that's the area that doctor say is the worst for heart attacks.”

Joan didn't feel comfortable going to the gym.  It had it been so many years and she was afraid she would look foolish. So, she just started walking in her neighborhood. After a while, Joan started meeting other walkers.

 lady walking dog

One such walker she met was Susan. Susan walked her small dog, Buster, every day while she was recuperating from surgery. Susan told Joan that she was concerned about what to do with her dog when she went back to work. I guess I'll have to put him in one of those doggie daycare programs she told Joan. “I walk every day, “Joan told her “How about if I start taking Buster for a walk.”

Joan knew that Buster would give her the sense of responsibility that she needed to continue walking every day. She'd have a purpose and a reason to get out. No matter what the weather she and Buster would walk. But Susan insisted on paying. “I wouldn't feel good!” she told Joan. “You can use the extra money for something fun like going to lunch or coffee with a friend.”

A few weeks later a friend of Susan's called. She too had a small dog and wanted to know if Joan could walk her dog when she walked Susan's. She was happy to pay.

And Joan got added bonuses.

  1. She got to be around dogs without having the responsibility of owning one. Since Joan loved dogs this was a big bonus!  
  2. She made a little extra cash on the side which came in handy now that she was retired.
  3. She got out and walked every day.

"I feel great and without even changing anything else I've dropped 10 pounds in the last 6 months. My doctor says I'm doing great and it keep up the good work."

#2 Diet- It’s not just what you don't eat but what you do eat that's important

Okay, so hopefully you have decided that exercise may not be that bad after all. Following a heart-healthy diet can actually be fun also. When people think of diets they tend to think of all the things they can't eat.  But start thinking about all of the things that you can eat. And explore the fun and unique ways that you can fix them. There are tons of cooking shows on TV and YouTube. Search out the ones that offer healthy options.

Try Out Some New Recipes From The AHA

healthy salad

The American Heart Association has tons of great recipes on their website.  “I used to hate Brussel sprouts,” Sharon said, “But now that I've learned how to roast them... well let's just say they're my new go-to vegetable.”

Step outside your box and try something new today.

Just because you didn't like it before you may be surprised to find that you like it now. My mother used to boil everything Kay said. I hated vegetables. Once I learn some different ways to cook I found out I really like all types of vegetables. I actually crave my roasted vegetables now.

#3 Monitor Your Blood Pressure

monitoring  blood pressure

This is very important especially if you have been prescribed blood pressure medicine. Keeping your blood pressure under control is a big step to keeping your heart healthy. The American Heart Association considers normal blood pressure to be anything under 120 over 80. Blood pressure home monitoring devices are readily available at most pharmacies. Check your blood pressure regularly. And furthermore, visit your doctor if you notice changes. Besides Heart failure, those with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of strokes, vision loss, kidney disease and sexual dysfunction.

#4 Have Your Cholesterol Checked

The American Heart Association recommends that you know your numbers. Besides your blood pressure, it is important to know your cholesterol numbers. Furthermore, understanding how the different readings can impact your health is also important.

 syringe with blood to check cholesterol

When testing your cholesterol, the lab will look at four areas. You will have a Total Cholesterol Count, HDL Count, LDL Count and Triglyceride Count.

Your total Cholesterol Count is calculated by adding your HDL and LDL together plus 20% of your Triglycerides. When evaluating your numbers, your doctor will take into consideration a number of other factors. Do you have diabetes, high blood pressure? Do you smoke? Are you overweight? Are you male or female? 

  • HDL- Considered the Good Cholesterol
  • LDL- Considered the Bad Cholesterol - Your diet may plan a huge role in your numbers.
  • Triglycerides- Some underlying diseases and genetic disorders can contribute to a high number here.

But don’t try to analyze the numbers yourself. Your doctor will look at the entire picture to determine if your cholesterol levels are a concern.

AHA Recommendation

We recommend that all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors checked every four to six years, and work with their healthcare providers to determine their risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

#5 Get a Handle on Your Excess Stress

stressed lady lying on sofa

Stress is not the problem. It’s the chronic or constant stress that wreaks havoc on our body. Our body is hardwired to react when confronted with a stressful situation. A series of chemical reactions begin to cascade throughout our body. This is often referred to as the “Fight or flight” response. Valuable indeed when we are confronted with a real emergency. If your house is on fire, for instance, this reaction will help you to flee from the situation quickly.

Your pupils will dilate, blood pressure will increase, your hearing will become more sensitive, muscles will tense and at the same time your digestive, immune and reproductive systems will all slow down. These reactions prepare your body to run from a bad situation or stay and fight.

So Far So Good, Right?

The problem is, in today's often hectic world most people stay in a constant state of stress. That means the systems that were designed to help us in case of an emergency are in the “turned on” position at all times. This, as you can imagine is not healthy for a body and definitely not for a heart.

Dr. Herbert Benson coined the term the relaxation response back in the early 1970s. He discovered that people have the ability to turn off the stress response by activating the relaxation response. To do this you simply need to use some simple techniques. Techniques that are designed to relax your body and mind. Dr. Benson was a huge advocate of using the breath. It's something you carry with you everywhere you go. And by simply learning how to relax your breath you can reset the systems in your body. With training, most people are able to easily reduce their heart rate and even lower their blood pressure sometimes.

 

Making Poor Choices

When people are stressed they tend to reach for the carbs. Exercise goes out the window as they complain that they do not have enough time. With poor diets and no exercise, their stress seems to escalate. And they are caught in a vicious cycle. Stress-poor choices-more stress.

 women doing yoga

By learning to take a few minutes to center yourself and take a few deep breaths you can help to relieve some of the stress you've been feeling. Practicing breathing exercises 3 to 5 times a day will probably make a big difference in how you feel. Now it will be easier make healthy choices. Add in a walk or 30 minutes of yoga and you will start to really feel your excess stress melt away.

You may have been handed a lousy set of genes but that doesn't mean you have to activate them. Do what you can to stay healthy. These five steps may just keep a heart attack at bay.

Kathryn Watson
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