Getting Heart-Strong With Stats, Warning Signs, and Health Tips, Too


In case you missed it, red was the color of choice when choosing what to wear last Friday, as the first of February marked the tenth anniversary of the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day. Its purpose: to help raise awareness of heart disease in women, while at the same time, launching American Heart Month.

Be aware, too, that The Million Hearts™ national initiative sponsored by the American Heart Association and others is also making headlines right now. Introduced by the Department of Health and Human Services in September, 2011, its aim is to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. over a 5-year period. To that end, this month Walgreens has engaged “its 26,000 health care providers to offer free blood pressure testing in consultation with a Walgreens pharmacist.”

Is the need great? You bet. Just take a look at these unsettling facts of life about cardiovascular disease, the umbrella term for all heart and blood vessel diseases, including heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and aortic aneurism:


  1. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
  2. About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year-or one in four.
  3. Every year, some 935,000 Americans have a heart attack; about 610,000 first-timers.
  4. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing more than 385,000 people every year and costing the U.S. $108.9 billion annually in services, medications, and lost productivity.


Meanwhile, recognizing the warning signs is key to survival; experience any of them and call 911 immediately:


  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper body pain or discomfort in arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats.


Know, too, that while the most common sign is chest pain or discomfort, women are somewhat likelier to feel short of breath, nauseous, and/or experience jaw pain.

Meanwhile, be advised that lifestyle is a determining factor, so be forewarned if you don’t exercise, enjoy a high fat, sodium, and/or sugary diet, smoke, are overweight/obese, and/or have diabetes. To be in the know, head to your primary care doctor for a physical and make it an annual event. These are the numbers you’ll want to hear:


  • A blood pressure reading less than 120/80
  • A total cholesterol that’s less than 200 mg/dl
  • An LDL (“bad” cholesterol) that’s less than 100 mg/dl
  • An HDL (“good”cholesterol) that’s more than 50 mg/dl for women and 40 mg/dl or higher for men
  • Triglycerides that are less than 150 mg/dl
  • Blood glucose levels that are less than 100 mg/dl


To get you there, take time to de-stress every day, allowing yourself some “chill” time to meditate, garden, walk, and so on. You get the idea. And then:


  • If you smoke, promise to stop. There’s lots of quitting help out there, everything from gums and lozenges to patches and hypnosis. Online assistance is right at your fingertips, too. Need motivation? Quitting before 40 reduces the risk of death by about 90% finds an American Cancer Society study. Plus, smokers die, on average, about 10 years earlier than non-smokers.
  • Get moving, aiming for at least 30 minutes a day of low to moderate intensity activity. The upside: lower blood pressure and triglyceride numbers, as well as higher HDL levels. Do it all in one outing or break it up into 10- or 15-minute workouts that can include walking, jogging, dancing, gardening, even playing outside with the kids. Then add just two weight training sessions a week-about 20 minutes or so each-and you’re on your way.
  • Start every day with a heart-healthy breakfast, as in oatmeal, a smoothie made, for example, with frozen berries, a banana, yogurt, and skim milk, a veggie-filled egg-white omelet, or even peanut butter on whole wheat toast sprinkled with ground flaxseed. Tempted to skip it and go right for the coffee? Keep in mind that eating breakfast cancels out the need for a mid-morning pick-me-up or heavy lunch, thus helping prevent weight gain.
  • Eat a heart-healthy lunch and dinner, too, ones that are rich in fruits, veggies, fiber, whole grains, low-fat, calcium-rich dairy, and lean protein. Aim for two servings of fish each week, too. Not sure how much produce you should be consuming every day? The CDC has the answer for you.
  • Take an inventory of what’s on your pantry shelves when it comes to snacks, soups, salad dressings, etc. and consider tossing a few of them. As you read the nutrition labels, keep in mind that you want to limit your daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg and less than 150 mg of cholesterol. Then opt for better-for you alternatives like baked chips, nutrition-dense granola bars, heart-healthy soups and frozen dinners, and so on. While you’re at it, put away the salt shaker and replace sugary drinks with plain water or sparkling water with a spritz or two of lemon juice.
  • Be heart-savvy when eating out, too. Need some help as you peruse the menus of your favorite restaurant chains? There’s actually an app for that, and it’s called “Restaurant Nutrition.”


In the meantime, need an easy, heart-healthy recipe to get you started? Registered dietitian Gavi Kestenbaum offers you her signature spinach salad. Top with baked chicken or salmon, and dinner’s on the table-fast and so good for you:

You will need:


  • 1 cup halved walnuts or pecan (unless allergic)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta or blue cheese (unless allergic)
  • 2 cored, thinly sliced apples or pears
  • 1 bag of pre-washed spinach (or salad greens)
  • 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup of virgin olive oil


Steps to Take:


  1. Place spinach or greens in large salad bowl.
  2. Add nuts, dried cranberries/cherries, sliced fruit & cheese.
  3. Toss.
  4. Add the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss well.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


As they say in France, à votre santé.