Heart Health: Prevent heart disease with diet, physical activity

Ruthie Robison, Lifestyles Editor, Greenwood Commonwealth

For heart health and disease prevention, Dr. Abhash Thakur says he always promotes physical activity.

“You should eat a balanced diet, but be active. Do something,” said Thakur, who is a cardiologist at Greenwood Leflore Hospital. “You can just walk 2 miles a day or 3 miles a day
or three to four times a week. That goes a long way…. Even 20
minutes every day is good.”

February is American Heart Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, heat disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

“Every 40 seconds somebody will have a heart attack or a stroke,” said Thakur. “So it’s a huge number all over the United States.”

Thakur said it’s also the leading cause of death in the Delta. The average annual rate of death due to heart disease in the United States is about 165 per 100,000 people. In the Delta, it is almost 244 per 100,000.

Thakur said Leflore County has the third highest death rate in
the state due to heart disease.

“Only Tunica and Claiborne counties have a death rate a little more than us,” he said. “In Leflore County, we are almost 380 people per 100,000.”

Lee Roach, a registered nurse and cardiac rehab nurse at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, agrees that exercise is important for heart disease prevention, and also recovery.

“When people ask the question which is more important diet or exercise for heart health, I think that they are equally important,” she said. “You can eat the right foods but you need to be exercising as well. A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for heart disease.”

An activity as simple as walking can help sustain life, said Roach.

“Your heart can actually form its own bypass. You can grow new heart vessels if you are physically active,” she said.

Those who are active can develop collateral circulation in the heart tissue that sometimes bypass the blockage in the main artery and supply enough oxygenated blood to enable the cardiac tissue to survive and recover.

“You get that from walking. It’s increased perfusion to your heart,” said Roach.

She compared the benefits of walking as exercise for heart health to watering a plant.

“You get a new plant, and it’s small and in a little pot,” she said. “As you start to put water in it, it starts to grow these new branches as you increase the perfusion, which is the water. When you start walking, you increase perfusion from the blood flow to your heart. Then, you start to get these little branches, little small blood vessels.”

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. The CDC says about half of
Americans have at least one of those risk factors. Several other
medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.

Thakur said many of these risk factors are prevalent in the Delta and Leflore County.

“In the Delta, we have more high blood pressure, diabetes, more obesity, more physical inactivity, more high cholesterol and a lot of smokers here. “These are the problems,” he said. “The obesity rate and physical inactivity are the biggest problems.”

To reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke, Thakur suggests a preventative measure called ABCS — A, take aspirin as directed by a physician; B, control blood pressure; C, manage your cholesterol; and S, stop smoking or don’t start.

“That will help a long way,” he said. “We can treat heart disease these days. We are very advanced…. But it’s still the No. 1 killer in this country.”

Thakur also suggests simple ways to get more physically active.

“Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs, or park your car farthest away in the parking lot at any market place you go,” he said.

For diet, Thakur recommends eating a balanced diet and, for those who are overweight, shedding some pounds.

“Diet is very controversial,” said Thakur. “There are a lot of diets — South Beach, vegan, liquid diet, keto, Jenny Craig, you name it. There is not enough research for long term. Is one better than the other? Probably not. As long as you are not eating too much saturated fat and being careful of what you are eating.”

Roach also said healthful eating is important for heart health.

“I always say if you keep pouring that grease into that sink it might not stop up today or tomorrow, but eventually you are going to have to call a plumber,” she said. “If you keep eating fatty foods and putting them into your system, you might not have to call the cardiologist next year but eventually you are going to have to call one.”

Thakur said a big issue is that many women do not realize that heart disease is also the No. 1 killer of females.

“A survey showed only 13 percent of women know that heart disease is a real health risk,” he said.

For a heart attack, men often feel a crushing pain in the middle of the chest. Thakur said women present different symptoms, such as nausea, shortness of breath or pain in the back, neck or jaw.

“They often ignore those symptoms many times,” he said. “You have to be proactive about the heart and don’t take it lightly. It’s not just a men’s disease, its an everybody’s disease.”

Roach said it’s important to listen to your body.

“Pay attention to the signs,” she said. “If you’ve got any of the signs and symptoms, talk to your doctor. If you can’t do the things that you used to do all of sudden, it means something. The body will give you warning signs. You need to pay attention to them, and stop putting it off. If you listen, your body will give you little hints.”

Thakur will talk on “Keeping Your Heart Healthy” at a Health Chat at 10 am. Feb. 9 at Locus Benedictus Retreat Center, 1407 Levee Road.

Greenwood Leflore Hospital will hold a Health Fair for Heart Health Month Feb. 20 from 9 a.m. to noon. The event will be held in conference rooms IA-C at the hospital. The event will include heart health education and free screenings.

For more information about these events, contact Greenwood Leflore Hospital’s Marketing & Communications Department at 451-7548 or info@glh.org.