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Strategies for Managing Heart Disease (some may surprise you)

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In the last heart disease blog, we discussed some of the main types of heart disease and focused specifically on coronary artery disease (CAD). We shared information about the symptoms, complications, and risk factors for CAD. We also referred you to other professional health-care sites for information on diagnosing and treating this condition.

Reading about all those symptoms and complications can be a bit frightening, to say the least. The good news is that there is a wealth of information on screening and preventing heart disease. That’s what we will cover in this blog.

Screening for Heart Disease

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) a division of the National Institute of Health, screening tests should begin around age 20 for people without risk factors. However, even “children may need screening if they do have risk factors, such as obesity, low levels of physical activity, or a family history of heart disease” (NHLBI, Retrieved, 2/5/19). As Dr. Edward Fisher, a leading heart specialist and volunteer for the American Heart Association, explains, “Coronary artery disease begins in childhood, so that by the teenage years, there is evidence that plaque that will stay with us for life are formed in most people.” (Fisher, 2015)

Screening Procedures

  1. Assess risk factors

  2. Check blood pressure

  3. Check cholesterol levels

  4. Calculate body mass index

  5. Check blood sugar levels to rule out diabetes

Note: don’t eat or drink anything for 8-10 hours before tests for blood sugar and cholesterol. Most screenings are done at the doctor’s office, but screenings can also be a part of community events, such as health fairs or at drug stores. Blood samples are collected at your doctor’s office, a hospital, or a laboratory. (NIHBLI, Retrieved, 2/5/19)

Preventing Heart Disease

Here are some steps you can take to prevent heart disease:

  • Do not smoke. If you do smoke, stop.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.

  • Get regular exercise. If you have heart disease, check with your doctor about amount and types of exercise you need.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

  • Lower high blood pressure using diet and medications, if needed.

  • Talk with your doctor about aspirin therapy.

  • If you have diabetes, keep it well-managed.

  • Manage your stress.

(NHLBI, Retrieved, 2/5/19) I’m relatively certain that, if you’re like me, you find at least one of these suggestions a bit challenging. Am I right? If you have problems with knowing how to change your lifestyle choices, you may want to log onto the American Heart Association’s website at There you will find all kinds of specific information on healthy nutrition and fitness tactics that have helped others in their battle against heart disease.

Managing Stress Most of us realize how proper nutrition, maintaining a healthy weight, and regular exercise helps us prevent heart disease. However, as a professional counselor, I believe that successfully managing our daily stress is also important in preventing heart disease. Stress that goes unmanaged results in higher blood pressure, which, in turn, increases our risk of a heart attack or stroke. Here are some ways you can decrease the amount of daily stress you experience.

  • Exchange the Attitude for Gratitude. Rather than bemoaning your accumulated lists of problems, make out a list of things you are grateful for today.

  • Watch Your Negative Self-Talk. Avoid focusing on all the mistakes you have made or on your past failures. Try to find something positive that you have accomplished or focus on the times you succeeded at a difficult task.

  • Avoid Exaggerating the Negatives. Remember that any challenge you face today can be made bigger or smaller just by the way you think about it. When you make a small issue into a huge mountain, your whole mind, body and spirit will suffer the consequences.

  • Find Ways to Turn Off the Stress Response. Specialized Search out hobbies and special interests that can help you relax. relaxation exercises are available online that can help you decrease your heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure daily. However, if you have heart disease, check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise.

  • Seek out Help from Professionals Who Are Trained to Help You. Find a good doctor and develop a good healthcare team to assist you with your medical issues. Find a doctor who will listen to your concerns and will respect your feelings and decision about your healthcare. If you are depressed for longer than two weeks or are extremely anxious and unable to rest or relax, you may want to seek out a mental health professional to help you learn to deal with your painful feelings.

  • Find Community Support When Available. Take an active role in finding the support you need. Remain active in church or social groups that help you enjoy being with others and benefiting from the support they can give you. You may also want to join a support group that cannot only provide support as other groups do, but that can also provide you with the latest information on your type of health issue.

  • Practice the “Serenity Prayer.” “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” (Niebuhr, Retrieved, 2017). Here’s what has worked for me in the most challenging times of my life: What you can’t change, turn over to God in prayer, believing that He will hear and answer. You may want to practice a daily devotional – set up a time each day to pray or meditate on passages from God’s word that instill peace, assurance, and comfort.

These are only a sampling of ways you can learn to manage your stress. If you can make only a few of these changes, I think you will find you are much more able to relax. For my own story of living with chronic illness and other ways to manage stress, check out my book, Life on the Deep End, published by Inkception Books (Steen, 2018). It’s available now on (paperback, $10.99/Kindle, $4.99). Sources 1. American Heart Association. “Coronary Artery Disease – Coronary Heart Disease,” Last Reviewed, 2015. 2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Ischemic Heart Disease,” Retrieved 2/5/2019. For more information on screening and prevention and strategies to deal with heart disease, check these links: American Heart Association. “How to Boost Your Willpower to Help Make Healthy Choices Easy,” Retrieved 2/13/19. American Heart Association. “How to Help Prevent Heart Disease at Any Age,” Retrieved, 2/13/19. American Heart Association. “How to Make Healthy Food and Lifestyle Choices Now,” February, 2019.

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