With February designated as American Heart Month, the St. Francois County Health Center is encouraging county residents to think about what they can do to become heart healthy.
"Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States and specifically St. Francois County," said Jessica McKnight, SFCHC director. "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention around 610,000 people die every year in the U.S. because of heart disease. Over 2,000 deaths between 2005 and 2015 in our county were due to heart disease.
"Nearly half of all Americans have at least one major risk factor for heart disease, but many don't know it or do not act on the warning signs. While factors like age and family history can't be changed, there are several programs and services available at the St. Francois County Health Center to help people live a healthier life and reduce their risk for heart disease."
According to McKnight, registered dietitians at the health center can provide free nutrition counseling through one-on-one appointments that provide personalized diet information and science-based nutrition information on topics such as weight loss, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure among others.
"Eating a healthy diet is important to having a healthy heart," said Breanna Griffin, SFCHS registered dietician. "One of the most important things I do in my job is educating about the DASH Diet."
The DASH Diet is a dietary plan promoted by the U.S. based National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to prevent and control hypertension.
"The diet is low in salt (or sodium) and low in fat as well," Griffin said. "So, not only does it help with hypertension, but it is also what we recommend for those with heart disease."
And what kind of diet recommendations would Griffin suggest?
"I'd just make sure that if you're eating a processed food, that you check out the food label," she said. "Make sure that the sodium content is less than 140 milligrams per serving and that it contains 5 grams of fat or lower. Other than that, I think increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat is the best way to go."
Griffin said most people living in the United States are not eating a heart healthy diet.
"The average American's diet is extremely processed and extremely fast — whatever is at our fingertips," she said. "We typically don't like to put a lot of time or effort into our foods. I think that's where we fall.
"Whenever we want something fast, they add a lot of salt, they add a lot of fat, they add a lot of preservatives just to make it last longer on the shelves, and so it is there whenever we need it."
Griffin noted that there's something else Americans can do to begin living a heart healthy lifestyle.
"Staying physically active is also important because the heart is a muscle and it needs exercise in order to be strong and healthy," she said. "Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week in order to have a healthy heart."
Director McKnight stressed the importance of learning to manage stress, as well as getting enough sleep each night.
"According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is essential for a healthy heart," she said. "Those who don't get enough of it can have disruptions in metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation — which increase heart disease risks. The Living a Healthy Life class taught by SFCHC helps participants set goals and make step-by-step plans for healthier living including improving sleep and managing stress.
"We also offer free classes to help people quit smoking in a supportive environment. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. According to the 2017 County Health Rankings, 25 percent of adults in St. Francois County smoke.
"Heart Month is a perfect time for everyone to schedule a checkup with their health provider to check blood pressure, cholesterol, and look for signs of heart disease or other illnesses. Discounted lab services and free blood pressure monitoring are available at SFCHC by appointment."
For more information on services available at the county health center, call 573-431-1947 or visit www.sfchc.org.