February is American Heart Health Month

February is American Heart Health Month

There is a silent killer preying on Nebraskans: heart disease, a leading cause of death in the United States. As part of Heart Health Month, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) CEO Dannette R. Smith and Bryan Heart cardiologist and electrophysiologist Robert L. Percell, MD, discussed preventative steps Nebraskans can take to reduce their risks during a Facebook Live session earlier this week.


The session can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/NEDHHS and on DHHS’s website.


“Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, but there’s a lot you can do to prevent it,” said Smith. “Taking time to care for your heart can be challenging as you go about daily life. But small acts of self-care, like taking walks, getting quality sleep, and cooking healthy meals, help your heart. Research shows that self-care can help you keep your blood pressure in a healthy range and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Knowing your family medical history is another critical element of avoiding heart disease. Knowledge is power, and learning more about your risk factors and any heart-related illnesses in your family helps you take control of your health and could save your life.” 


While everyone is susceptible to heart disease – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high blood pressure affects nearly half of the adult population in the U.S., yet many people who have the condition don’t know they have it – the condition disproportionately affects people of color, making it all the more urgent for this group to practice preventative actions.


In Nebraska, cancer and heart disease are the two leading causes of death for African Americans. Deaths from heart disease in Nebraska for African Americans, are 93.9 deaths per 100,000 people, Native Americans 94.9, for Hispanics 43.1, and 81.1 for Caucasians, noted Percell.


Uncontrolled high blood pressure raises the risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States. Fortunately, high blood pressure is treatable and preventable, said Percell. “In terms of prevention, exercise and keeping the proper weight helps, as does avoiding high concentrations of sugar and decreasing salt intake,” he said. “We really have to take an active approach in eating more healthy and incorporating a little bit of exercise – for example, 30 to 45 minutes of walking, along with some strength exercises.”


Studies show that if you join forces with people at home or online to exercise, you have a better chance of staying motivated. Best of all, you don’t have to make big changes all at once. Small steps can get you where you want to go. Gather your friends and family and make a commitment to your heart health, together. Get creative. Invite a colleague to keep you on track. Text each other a reminder to go for a walk or take an online exercise class together. Grab your kids and do jumping jacks, shoot some hoops, or dance. People with friends or family who support their efforts to be physically active are more likely to be successful, studies show.


Also, when you when you get fast food, ask for a salad instead of fries, and don’t get the “deluxe” sandwich. Start your meal with a salad or appetizer of veggies so you’ll have something healthy first. Studies suggest that we tend to eat like our friends and family. Your healthy choices may inspire those around you.