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Take Aim At Silent Killer
By Jamie Vickers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Forget heart-shaped chocolate and candy this month. Healthy hearts are in the spotlight during National Heart Month in February, especially for women who are twice as likely to die from a heart attack than men.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. In 1995, about 45 percent of the deaths in Mississippi were due to cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks and strokes, said Dr. Melissa Mixon, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
Heart disease is also known as the "silent killer." According to the American Heart Association, 63 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease experienced no prior symptoms.
"There are two broad categories of risk factors for heart disease," Mixon said. "There are those factors that you can do nothing about like aging, gender and genetics, and then there are those that you can do something about like diet, exercise and general health issues."
Prevention is the key to reducing incidents of heart disease and associated deaths, but for many people, preventing heart disease will require a change in lifestyles, Mixon said.
Smoking is the biggest risk factor for heart attacks. Women who smoke have a much higher risk of death from heart disease. Constant, long-term exposure to tobacco smoke at work or at home, including second-hand smoke, also increases the risk. If a smoker kicks the habit, the heart disease risk will gradually decrease to the level of a nonsmoker.
Physical inactivity proves to make a person twice as likely to have heart disease than an active person. Exercise is one way to decrease the likelihood of heart disease.
"Exercise does not have to be high endurance like a 45 minute jog," Mixon said. "Researchers now say that activity throughout the day is cumulative and has a positive effect."
An easy way to increase activity is to increase the pace when walking. Using stairs whenever possible, and walking during breaks at work are also easy ways to increase activity.
"When shopping, park at the far end of the parking lot, and make several trips to unload groceries from the vehicle," Mixon said. "Instead of efficiency, it is better to become inefficient to become more active."
According to Mixon, another good way to become more active is by starting a walking program.
"It is easier to stay with a program when you have a buddy or someone to be accountable. The walking partner should not always be a spouse because men exercise at a higher endurance level than women, and child care could also become an issue."
Physical activity is a step toward maintaining a healthy body, but diet is also an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. There is no need to replace favorite foods with flavorless foods.
"All foods can play a part in a heart healthy diet," Mixon said. "The trick is not to consume some foods in as great amounts or as often as others."
Tips for eating healthier include decreasing the amount of fried foods, selecting lean cuts of meat and trimming visible fat, removing skin from poultry, using low-fat dairy products and adding spices instead of butter when preparing foods.
"High risks for heart disease caused by unhealthy habits can be reversed," Mixon said. "Changing your lifestyle may be difficult, but the benefits are well worth it, since more women die each year from heart disease than all types of cancer combined."