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Know Your Numbers: A Cheat Sheet on Heart Health

Knowing your numbers means knowing the risks for heart disease. There are many quick “Cheat Sheets” or simple guides to help champions stay on track and  share with others.

There is an important difference between actual knowledge of risk and our behavior to reduce risk.  Hopefully, the more we “know our numbers” about risk, the more likely we will behave to reduce risk.  But this is not always the case. Studies suggest that many workers who think they are in good health may actually have some disease or disease risk. First, let’s look at commonly prescribed behaviors to reduce cardiovascular risk.

  • quit smoking
  • eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • choose lean proteins (like fish and poultry) over artery-clogging red-meats
  • use less salt with your food
  • connect with others – get social support
  • drinking alcohol in moderation (if at all); etc.

But, what risk factors — and your knowledge of them — should you target with these behaviors? This article discusses three and then gives you some links to cheat sheets.

You Can’t Change What You Don’t Know

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measurements let us know how quickly our blood is moving through our veins (an average of 3-4 miles an hour, non-stop, all day!)  Here is a great list of ways to keep your blood pressure down WITHOUT medication. How does physical activity and eating healthy play into that? Getting exercise and doing things like drinking more water and eating healthier help clean out  veins, which is like slowly taking your finger off of the end of the hose (as well as making your heart stronger). 30 minutes of physical activity a day is ideal, or as some people say, “Make sure you work up a sweat at least once a day.” The American Heart Association has a great resource for tips to keep down blood pressure with exercise here.

Stress

Too much stress damages your heart.  Stress causes your fight or flight response to kick in. Your fight or flight response was developed to release things like adrenaline that are designed to get blood flow to your limbs to protect yourself from bears and cheetahs. The problem is, we don’t have those types of threats anymore (Hopefully!) but we do still have that system in our body, and it is still effective. But it engages WAY too much; too much stress means increasing your blood pressure and heart rate. This leads to a more exhausted heart (it IS a muscle, just like the rest of our muscles). Don’t worry, there are great ways to help reduce stress. One of my favorites is being mindful, or mindfulness. When you set aside 5, 10, 15 minutes, or even the amount of time it takes to take 3 breaths, you can almost instantly see and feel the benefits. Also remember to take some time out for yourself.

Warning Signs

Finally, we should take a moment to discuss the warning signs of a heart attack.  These could LITERALLY save your life or the life of someone you love – there is no reason not to pay attention to these signs. First and most obvious is chest pain or discomfort.  An uncomfortable pressure or pain in the center of your chest lasting longer than a few moments. That pain spreading to the surrounding parts of your body (shoulders, arms, neck) is a worry as well. A sudden shortness of breath (EVEN without pain) should be noted. And if the chest pain causes any type of lightheadedness, sweating or nausea, you should be aware. Any one of these signs could signify a heart attack, and it is recommended to call 911 and/or go straight to the hospital.

Cheat Sheets

There are several short guides, or cheat sheets, to quickly increase your knowledge.

This is a helpful collection, especially if you are a wellness champion with ACEC.  This is a great bank of information that you can download, in short, one-page formats, and then send out to your employees.  And if you are not a champion, please still share this information with those around you.  You never know whose life could depend on this knowledge.

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