National Cholesterol Education Month: Living ‘heart healthy’ means making smart choices

Since September is National Cholesterol Education Month, community members in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart may encounter the phrase “heart healthy” more frequently, especially at the U.S. Army Health Clinic Stuttgart.

What they may not know is what living heart healthy looks like. Looking after heart health involves maintaining cholesterol, blood pressure and weight levels appropriate for an individual’s age and height. Wise food choices and consistent exercise help to achieve and maintain heart health. 

It is important to depend on fruits, vegetables and grains to fill the majority of one’s diet. A healthy goal would be to eat five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day, and avoid fried and processed foods.

Community members should choose fish, skinless poultry and lean cuts of meat for their protein sources and consume non-fat dairy products two to three times a day. They should also replace “bad” fats (saturated and trans fats) with healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and fish oil).

To maintain a healthy weight, individuals should exercise daily and follow a healthy diet. Exercise is the central ingredient of good health. It tones the muscles, strengthens the bones, makes the heart and lungs work better and increases physical reserve and vitality. Exercise aids in every activity of daily life and is known to decrease depression, improve bowel function and ease sleep. Exercise also helps prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and many other diseases. 

The human heart is a muscle. Muscles need exercise to work their best. To keep their hearts pumping strong, community members can:
• Use the stairs instead of the elevator;
• Park a little farther from a destination and walk the extra distance, or
• Take a pet for an extra walk.
Before starting any exercise regime, community members should first consult their physician.

Also, individuals can help their heart and overall physical health by refraining from smoking and using other tobacco products. Smoking is devastating to an individual’s physical health and adds to his or her stress level. Cigarette smoking kills over 393,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to the American Lung Association. Lung cancer and emphysema (chronic lung disease) are the best known and among the most miserable outcomes.

In addition, smoking causes atherosclerosis to develop faster. Atherosclerosis results in heart attacks, strokes, angina pectoris (heart pains), intermittent claudicating (leg pains) and many others problems.

Pipe and cigar smoking don’t have the pulmonary consequences associated with cigarette smoking, but can lead to cancer of the lips, tongue and esophagus. Nicotine in any form negatively affects on the small blood vessels and thus increases the chance of having a heart attack.

Community members should also get regular check-ups. Those who are over 40 or have heart trouble should have a checkup at least once a year. The exam should include cholesterol, glucose levels and a blood pressure check for most adults.
Finally, prescription drugs can also make a difference in keeping hearts healthy, and there are many tested drugs that can help control blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and most other chronic diseases.

For more information on heart health and other health topics, contact the public health nurse at the USAHC Stuttgart at 430- 6383/6751/civ. 0711-680-6383/6751 Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.