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Protecting your heart

PRINCETON — Little steps can turn into life-saving steps in the fight against heart disease, according to state health officials.

In recognition of February as American Heart Month, Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, has urged Illinois residents to know the signs of a heart attack and what can be done to reduce the risk of a heart attack.

“Heart disease doesn’t just start one day in your 40s or 50s. It can be the result of not taking care of yourself over your lifetime – not being physically active, smoking, high stress levels and not eating a nutritious diet,” Hasbrouck said. “What you do in your teens, 20s and 30s can impact your health as you get older. It is important that all age groups embrace a healthy lifestyle and work to lower the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three deaths is the result of heart disease and stroke, equaling 2,200 deaths each day in the United States.

Joy Jaraczewski, health educator with the Bureau/Putnam County Health Department, also reviewed some of those risk factors to heart disease, including smoking, obesity, a poor diet and a lack of activity.

Also, there has been a common misconception that heart disease is primarily a man’s disease, but that is not the case. As men have gotten more educated about their heart during the years, the statistics have gotten better for men. Many of her recent heart programs funded through grants are now geared toward women, Jaraczewski said.

The big thing to remember is that a person is never too young or never too old to take at least some steps toward developing a healthier, heart-friendly lifestyle, Jaraczewski said.

Looking at specific recommendations, Jaraczewski said people should definitely stay away from smoking, which is the worst thing for the heart. People can also incorporate a bit more physical activity into their days, even while at work. For instance, while sitting at a desk, people can do something as simple as a few leg lifts. Even a few minutes a day of simple activities will help, but some aerobic exercise is also needed for a healthier heart, she said.

The local health department has information and materials available for people wanting to learn more about heart disease and how to live healthier lifestyles, Jaraczewski said.

“We all have a heart, and we all need to learn what to do to protect it,” she said.

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Risk factors to heart disease
Things that can increase your risk of heart disease include:
• High blood cholesterol
• High blood pressure
• Diabetes
• Overweight or obesity
• Physical inactivity
• Smoking
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health.
Warning signs for a heart attack
If you experience the following symptoms, do not wait (no longer than five minutes) before calling for help. Call 911 and get to the hospital right away.
• Heavy chest pressure or pain
• Sharp pain in the neck, back and jaw
• Severe shortness of breath
• Cold sweats
• Unusual or unexplained fatigue
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Unexplained nausea or vomiting
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health.
Questions to ask your doctor
Some questions you can ask your doctor or health care provider to help you better understand heart health include:
• What is my risk for heart disease?
• What is my blood pressure? What does it mean for me, and what do I need to do about it?
• What are my cholesterol numbers? What do I need to do about them?
• Do I need to lose weight for my health?
• What is my blood sugar level? Am I at risk for diabetes?
• What other screening tests for heart disease do I need?
• How often should I return for checkups for my heart health?
• What can I do to quit smoking?
• How much physical activity do I need to help protect my heart?
• What is a heart-healthy eating plan for me?
Source: Illinois Department of Public Health.
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