Aha! A New AHA Healthy Heart Plan

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - February 24, 2010
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The American Heart Association recently announced its new plan for the next 10 years: Reduce the development of the risks for heart disease to help us live healthier.

“For many years, the AHA emphasized treating heart disease effectively (which it still does) and that was successful, so we shifted to treating the risk factors of heart disease, which include lowering cholesterol, treating hyper-tension, maintaining good glucose control in diabetes - and that was very successful,” explains Dr. Ralph Shohet, director of cardiovascular research at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine and president of the American Heart Association-Oahu affiliate.

“So now, the AHA in the next 10 years is moving on to a third approach, which is to try to help people live healthier so that the risk factors don’t even develop.”

This month, in recognition of American Heart Month, the Honolulu Fire Department, an AHA Training Center, is offering free blood pressure screenings at the following stations from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, when firefighters are present (meal times of noon to 12:45 p.m. and 5 to 5:45 p.m. excluded): Kaimuki, Kalihi, Mokulele (890 Valkenburgh St.), Aiea, Kahuku, Waialua, Kailua, Aikahi, Manoa, Ewa Beach, Nuuanu, Waianae, Waimanalo, Kalihi Uka, Palolo, Hawaii Kai, Makakilo, Mililani, Waiau and Olomana.

The AHA also has its annual Honolulu Heart Ball Feb. 27 at the Sheraton Waikiki. (For more information, call 457-4962.)

“Vascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the developed world,” says Shohet. “And it’s mostly something you get from the way you live.”

A heart attack happens when there is limited blood flow to the heart muscle, and a stroke results when there is limited blood flow to the brain. According to Shohet, both are caused quite often by the same problem, which is a build up of plaque in the arteries that supply those organs, and the cause of that buildup is a result of several factors, the main ones being smoking, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure.

“Your cholesterol level is determined by your diet and your genetics; it’s sort of a combination of the two,” says Shohet. “You can treat it by a healthy diet, losing weight and being lucky in terms of your genetics. And there is good medicine for lowering cholesterol as well.”

Growing up, I loved to eat eggs, but my mom would always stop me from eating too many of them because she said it would give me high cholesterol. Well, Shohet says that while egg yolks do have a lot of cholesterol, there is no direct correlation between how much cholesterol you eat and what your blood level is. But you should limit the amount of extra cholesterol as well as the amount of fatty foods you eat.

“I think most people know what’s got a lot of fat in it,” says Shohet. “Certainly something like Spam has a lot of fat in it, and in general fast foods and processed foods often have a lot of fat added to them as well.”

A better option are foods that are high in fiber and low in calories such as fruits and vegetables, which are helpful in keeping your cholesterol down.

As for the development of high blood pressure, Shohet says there is a genetic predisposition, but obesity also plays a big role, as does overdoing alcohol consumption (more than two drinks a day) and high-salt diets.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of symptoms for high cholesterol or high blood pressure (often called silent killers), so it’s important to monitor these regularly.

“It’s never too late to change bad habits, but it gets very hard after they’re established,” adds Shohet. “For example, not starting smoking in the first place is a lot easier than quitting, not getting fat is a lot easier than losing weight, and not developing high blood pressure because of eating a lot of high-salt fast foods is a lot easier than controlling your blood pressure once it’s elevated.

“Encouraging people to maintain healthy habits from the start is a good strategy.”

The AHAalso recently launched the My Life Check Web site (http://www.heart.org/MyLifeCheck) to help Americans stop heart disease before it starts. It includes information and tools to help you learn the state of your heart and how you can live a healthier life.

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