Our county falls into the red zone on a map of heart disease in Missouri, and is among 22 counties with the highest rate for the disease.
At least 221 people died of heart disease in the county in 2006, according to health department numbers — a rate of at least 326 per 100,000 annually.
Those numbers correlate with higher numbers of physically inactive people and more obese people than the state average.
“Those things go hand in hand with heart problems,” said Debbie Hoehn, with St. Francois County Health Department. “We do have a higher rate of obesity and it’s directly related to how much we exercise and what we eat.”
Experts recommend 30 minutes of daily exercise. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, no-pain, no-gain stuff either.
“You should break a sweat,” Hoehn said. “Heavy housework could count, if you get your heart rate up. Perspiring at room temperature, that’s probably a good rule of thumb.”
The 30 minutes doesn’t even have to come all at once. A 10-minute walking break in the morning, one in the afternoon and some yard work in the evening could do it.
“You don’t have to make yourself hurt,” Hoehn stressed. “In fact, too much can be hard on your joints and that’s the last thing you want to do when you’re starting an exercise program. You end up hurt and then can’t do anything for weeks. Then you’re out of the mood.”
Many start exercise programs to lose weight and improve their personal appearance, but physical activity does more important things for you than just that.
It boosts energy and strength, reduces stress, improves sleep.
“You’ll feel more upbeat,” Hoehn said. “It also lowers the risk for heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It’s just good for you.”
Another important step to reducing your risk of heart disease is to know your numbers.
“But it’s not enough to have the numbers,” Hoehn added. “Once you have them, it’s time to do something about them.”
Cholesterol, for example.
One function of this substance is to “repair” nicks in blood vessels, but it matters which kind of cholesterol is available.
LDL — the bad stuff — is stickier than HDL and repairs with it can be a mess. Blockages instead of a smooth repair. HDL helps result in smoother repairs.
To boost your chances of a smooth repair, experts recommend incorporating moderate amounts of olive or canola oil in your diet. They also recommend adding walnuts and eating more fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Fats that solidify at room temperatures should be limited. Use butter sparingly, as you would an accent or spice. Also avoid transfats found in products such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Dieting doesn’t necessarily have to mean limiting calories, Hoehn said. It’s more about balance. “People need to eat more vegetables and less red meat.”
According to food pyramid guidelines, people should eat two and one-half cups of vegetables daily and two cups of fruits. The guidelines recommend just 5.5 ounces of meat.
Most people eat too much of the latter. Consider that a serving of meat is only the size of a deck of cards and adjust your meals accordingly.
“There’s a lot of good information available at the American Heart Association Web site,” Hoehn added. That’s www.americanheart.org .
The warning signs of a heart attack are covered, as well as exercise and diet programs proven to work.