Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: From my heart to yours


“Did you know that in addition to being “Black  History Month” February is also “American Heart Month?”

I didn’t until Laurie Fanelli at the Senior Activity Center told me.

It’s a month to become aware of our risks of death from heart disease — a disease responsible for one quarter of all deaths every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Some of us of a certain age are aware of what we must do to maintain heart health. Some have had heart surgery. Some have had stents installed in arteries, some suffer from high blood pressure, some from high cholesterol.

We know our enemies.

Younger individuals, however, are dying of heart disease. This is attributed to the increase in  their rates of risk factors such as physical inactivity, tobacco use and hypertension, according to the American Heart Association.

The CDC wants to let younger adults know that they are not immune to heart disease. They can reduce their risks through lifestyle changes and by managing medical conditions.

The heart association wants older persons to help younger adults know that they are not immune to heart disease.

“They can reduce their risk — at any age — through lifestyle changes and by managing medical conditions,” the association says.

It urges that the following messages get across to everyone: Find time to be active, which should involve at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week; quit tobacco use for good; know your numbers for blood pressure and cholesterol; stick to the medication routine set by your doctor; make healthy eating a habit that includes lowering sodium and trans fat intake and increasing fruits and vegetables.

And heart disease statistics are different for men and women.

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States — one in four female deaths.  What’s upsetting about this is that two-thirds of the women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have had no previous symptoms.

The CDC says that heart disease affects men the same way with one in four deaths. Half of the men who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have had no previous symptoms.

I remember when I was a kid, there were always deaths in my neighborhood during snowstorms. Seemingly healthy men (fathers of my friends) would suddenly drop dead while shoveling snow.

In addition to high blood pressure and cholesterol, risk factors for heart disease include diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.

The Harvard Medical School “Harvard Heart Letter” gives the acronym “FACES” for recognizing the early symptoms of heart failure: Fatigue, Activity limitation, Congestion, Edema or ankle swelling and Shortness of breath.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, seek help immediately.

The letter also says that the top foods to help keep your arteries clear and your heartbeat stable are oatmeal and nuts. Foods that help control blood pressure are white beans, cooked halibut and cooked spinach. Tomatoes can reduce stroke risk, the Harvard letter continues.

So the evidence shows that we should keep exercising, eat good, fresh foods, throw away the salt shaker and the cigarettes, watch our weight and limit our alcohol intake.

On another subject, I’ve been asked to spread the word that the Senior Center needs volunteer drivers. These volunteers serve those who are unable to drive but need to get to the post office, the grocery store or a medical appointment. Just give Laurie Fanelli a call at (631) 749-1059.