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Latinos and heart disease

Prescription for wellness

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Hispanic men and women. It kills more people than all forms of cancer. Risk factors for developing heart disease include

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Family history
  • Age

Male gender -- Men have a greater risk for heart disease earlier in life. After menopause, women?s risk for heart disease increases.

Although several risk factors such as family history and gender cannot be changed, many of the other risk factors can be modified so that health risks are minimized. Let?s review the major risk factors and evaluate your status.

High blood pressure

What is it?

Often referred to as the "silent killer" high blood pressure increases the heart?s workload, causing it to grow weaker over time. It can also cause stroke, kidney disease, and heart failure. One out of four Mexican Americans have high blood pressure.

What can you do about it?

Work closely with your family doctor regarding a reasonable nutritional and exercise schedule. Medications may be necessary to adequately control your blood pressure. Weight loss, sodium restriction, and increased physical activity may be part of an overall plan for better health.

Smoking

What is it?

Cigarette smoking doubles your risk of heart attack. Of Hispanics, 21 percent men and 15 percent women smoke cigarettes. It is the biggest risk factor for peripheral vascular disease.

What can you do about it?

Quit now! Find a program with the help of your physician to stop smoking. The good news is that when people stop smoking, their risk of heart disease rapidly declines to the point where if they have been tobacco free for three years, their risk is almost the same as that of a person who never smoked!

High cholesterol

What is it?

Cholesterol is a substance found in cells, produced by the body and also found in food from animals. It is essential to forming hormones, cell membranes, and other body functions. Too much cholesterol can cause plaque formation on the lining of blood vessels. Over time, this creates a narrowing that can cause heart attacks or strokes. Among Mexican Americans 20 years or older, 47 percent men and 43 percent women have total blood cholesterol levels over 200 mg/dl.

What can you do about it?

Excessively high levels may require medications to reduce cholesterol. Other things contributing to lower blood cholesterol levels include physical activity and a low fat, high fiber diet. Get tested for cholesterol and discuss your specific action plan with your doctor.

Obesity

What is it?

More than 60 percent of the Mexican American population is overweight. Disturbing trends causing obesity include overeating and increasing physical inactivity. Obesity has been linked to five of the ten leading causes of death in the United States.

What can you do about it?

Careful and consistent lifestyle changes can impact obesity. Calorie counting, including decreasing the amount of fat in the diet, physical activity of 15-30 minutes each day, and occasionally medications, can help lighten the load!

Physical inactivity

What is it?

Lack of exercise is a risk factor for heart disease. Coupled with overeating, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high blood cholesterol can develop.

What can you do about it?

Regular doses of aerobic exercise will promote cardiovascular fitness. Jogging, walking, swimming, biking, dancing, and exercise classes are beneficial. Recommended levels of exercise from the American Heart Association are 30-60 minutes of activity 3-7 times per week.

Stress

What is it?

Chronic headaches, high blood pressure, chronic back pain, and cancer have been associated with various forms of stress.

What can you do about it?

Leisure pursuits and physical activity serve as stress reducers. Behavior modification for altering traditional reactions can be very therapeutic. Laughter is another effective stress buster! Relax and take in a comedy. Volunteer at a children?s activity group. Remember what it was like to enjoy a moment from the perspective of a child.

Your new plan will benefit more than your heart! Spend your time enjoying life instead of cleaning up the aftermath of bad decisions from the past. Get a check up. Listen to the advice of your doctor and do something about your risk factors today. Your children are learning from you--what you cook and eat, how you spend your free time, how you value your life choices. Leave a legacy you are proud of for your children.

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