7 Keys to Heart Health
A cardiovascular nurse leader shares heart-healthy tips for nurses & others
By Jennifer Larson, contributor
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States—and has been for a number of years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you practice cardiovascular nursing, you know what it’s like to care for patients with heart disease—whether you work in primary care, a cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU), a cath lab or a cardiac rehab facility. You’ve made it your life’s work to help these people recover and live a healthier life.
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But heart disease is not just an issue to warn your patients about.
“Being a health care provider, specifically a nurse, does not exempt you from the statistics about heart disease,” noted Eileen Handberg, ANP-BC, who serves on the board of directors of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA). “And it should make you more vigilant about your own health.”
The PCNA and the American Nurses Association (ANA) have collaborated to highlight the importance of nurses improving their own heart health as part of ANA’s Year of the Healthy Nurse campaign in 2017.
7 steps to heart health
Ready to make some healthy changes? Here are seven things you can do to care for your heart:
1. Know your numbers. When was the last time that you saw your own healthcare provider—as a patient? It’s probably time to schedule a check-up. Knowing your blood pressure, weight, BMI, cholesterol levels, and other information can help gauge your overall health. Together, you and your provider can determine what you might need to improve—and how to get started.
2. Get moving. The American Heart Association (AHA) strongly encourages adults to put in at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise every week to promote a healthy cardiovascular system. But you should also look for ways to be more active in general.
“Look at your environment and see where there’s opportunity,” said Handberg.
It might be taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking during breaks or even parking farther away at work. At home, even 5 minutes can be enough to do a few jumping jacks or planks or use some light hand weights.
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet. The Mayo Clinic describes a heart-healthy diet as a high-fiber diet packed with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein; it also limits saturated fats, trans fats and sodium.
The average American consumes 3400 mg of sodium per day, well above the AHA’s recommended maximum of 2300 mg. If you already have hypertension (a major risk factor for coronary artery disease), your maximum intake should be closer to 1500 mg, experts say. Read food labels carefully and find salt alternatives for cooking and dining.
4. Snack wisely. Handberg recommends thinking ahead. Stash a healthy snack in your bag or your locker at work so you don’t give in to decadent treats when your stomach starts growling. You might try keeping a food diary for several days and tracking everything that you eat; this allows you to see where you could make some healthy changes.
5. Stop smoking. It’s not just about lung cancer. Smoking also increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease and contributes to the development of atherosclerosis, in which plaque builds up in the arteries. It’s time to kick the habit.
6. Reduce your stress levels. Stress can drive up your blood pressure and put a strain on your cardiovascular system. And nursing is a high-stress profession. Find effective stress-reduction strategies and look for ways to achieve better balance in your life; you’ll be calmer and better prepared to take care of your patients.
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7. Know the symptoms of a heart attack. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. But heart attack can present differently in women than in men.
Women are more likely to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath or feelings of nausea, reflux or flu-like symptoms. Learn to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack, and if you experience them, call 9-1-1 or get to a hospital immediately.
You have the power to make positive changes, and should encourage your patients to do the same.
“Heart health does require active engagement,” said Handberg.
Check out PCNA’s Heart Healthy Toolbox for additional information.
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