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HEALTHY LIVING

Explore the importance of mental wellness for healthy heart, brain

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(Family Features) Research shows anxiety, stress and depression can have a negative impact on physical health and may even increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.

In fact, the American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health, identified a strong interconnection between the mind, heart and body in its scientific statement, “Psychological Health, Well-Being and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection.”

“Research has clearly demonstrated negative psychological factors, personality traits and mental health disorders can negatively impact cardiovascular health,” said volunteer chair of the statement writing committee Glenn N. Levine, M.D., FAHA, master clinician and professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of the cardiology section at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “The body’s biological reaction to stress, anxiety and other types of poor mental health can manifest physically through an irregular heart rate or rhythm, increased blood pressure and inflammation throughout the body. Negative psychological health is also associated with health behaviors that are linked to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, such as smoking, lower levels of physical activity, unhealthy diet, being overweight and not taking medications as prescribed.”

Studies have found some people, including people of color, may face a greater risk of poor health outcomes due to chronic stress, depression and anxiety linked to psychosocial stressors, particularly those related to social and economic inequality, discrimination, systemic racism and other societal factors. A study published in the “Journal of the American Heart Association” found U.S. adults who reported feeling highly discriminated against at work had an increased risk of developing high blood pressure compared to those who reported low discrimination at work.

“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being,” Levine said. “It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Practicing mindfulness in all forms allows one to be more aware of and have more control over emotional responses to the experiences of daily life.”

Consider these tips from Levine to improve your mind-heart-body connection:

  • Practice meditation regularly. Even simple actions such as communing with nature or sitting quietly and focusing on your breath can have a positive impact.
  • Get plenty of good, restful sleep. Set a regular bedtime, turn off or dim electronics as bedtime approaches and form a wakeup routine.
  • Make connections and stay in touch. Reach out and connect regularly with family and friends, or engage in activities to meet new people.
  • Practice mindful movement. There are many types of gentle mindful practices like yoga and Tai chi that can be done about anywhere with no special equipment to help ease your soul and muscles.
  • Spend time with your furry friend. Companion animals are often beloved members of the family and research shows pets may help reduce physiological reactions to stress as well as support improved physical activity.
  • Work it out. Regular physical activity – a recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a mix of both weekly – can help relieve tension, anxiety and depression, and give you an immediate exercise “high.”

“Wellness is more than simply the absence of disease,” Levine said. “It is an active process directed toward a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life. When we strive to reduce negative aspects of psychological health, we are promoting an overall positive and healthy state of being.”

Learn more about the importance of heart health at heart.org.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images


SOURCE:
American Heart Association

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HEALTHY LIVING

Getting high cholesterol under control

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(Family Features) Heart disease is the nation’s leading cause of death for men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but many people aren’t aware they may be at elevated risk. More than 71 million adults in the United States have high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and nearly 50 million don’t have it under control, which puts them at higher risk for cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.

What’s more, nearly one-third (31%) of U.S. adults are not aware that having high cholesterol puts them at greater risk for heart attack and stroke, according to the findings of a recent study conducted by The Harris Poll commissioned by Esperion Therapeutics, Inc. The poll also revealed some inconsistent understanding about treatment options available for those with uncontrolled cholesterol. Fully 3 in 10 (30%) of those taking statins believe statins are the only LDL lowering treatment available for those with high LDL cholesterol.

“In auto racing, the red flag means danger on the track, stopping the race immediately,” said Dr. JoAnne Foody, chief medical officer at Esperion. “We are launching a patient education program, ‘Wave the Red Flag,’ to encourage people with uncontrolled high cholesterol to have their levels checked right away and discuss appropriate treatment options with their health care provider.”

If your high cholesterol is uncontrolled, understanding how you can achieve greater control can reduce your risk for serious health conditions, including potentially life-threatening cardiovascular events.

Consider these tips to get high cholesterol under control.

Talk with your doctor. Speaking with your physician is an important first step to managing any health condition. Your doctor can help you understand the severity of your condition and whether a treatment plan should be moderate or aggressive.

Check your progress. Keeping tabs on your cholesterol can help you and your health care team gauge whether your treatment plan is working. If you don’t have heart disease, you may not need to check as frequently, but your doctor can recommend the appropriate intervals to help manage your cholesterol most effectively.

Take medications as prescribed. Statins are the medications most often recommended by treatment guidelines for the management of blood cholesterol, and nearly one-third (30%) of those taking statins believe they are the only cholesterol-lowering treatment available, according to the survey. However, even with maximal statin therapy, some patients with chronic disease do not meet recommended LDL cholesterol levels. Taking your medications regularly and as instructed helps your doctor determine whether additional therapies – including non-statin treatments – could be useful to help manage your blood cholesterol.

Make lifestyle adjustments. Your diet plays a major role in lowering LDL cholesterol. Limiting fatty foods, especially those that are high in saturated and trans fats, is key. Monitoring your overall diet and exercising can also help reduce your risk of high cholesterol. Even if you don’t have high cholesterol, adopting more cholesterol-friendly habits can help prevent your levels from rising to unhealthy levels in the future.

To find additional information about managing your high cholesterol, talk to your health care provider and visit WaveTheRedFlag.info.

Fast Facts About Cholesterol

What is cholesterol?
The liver creates a fat-like waxy substance called cholesterol. It serves useful purposes for the body, including producing hormones and helping digest food.

How do you get high cholesterol?
The human body makes all the cholesterol it needs naturally, so any cholesterol you eat is cholesterol you don’t need. However, it can be difficult to avoid because you can find dietary cholesterol in many common foods, including meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy. Other non-dietary contributing factors include health conditions like obesity and diabetes, as well as family history and advancing age.

What is a normal cholesterol level?
An average optimal level of LDL cholesterol is about 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
An average optimal level of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol is at least 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women. HDL cholesterol can actually lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Are there symptoms of high cholesterol?
Unlike many health conditions, there are rarely any symptoms that your cholesterol is high. That’s what makes regular screening so important.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock


SOURCE:
Esperion

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Learn CPR as a life-saving skill

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(Family Features) While many Americans agree Conventional CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or Hands-Only CPR (HOCPR) significantly improve a person’s chance of survival from cardiac arrest, less than half are confident they can perform either Conventional CPR or HOCPR in an emergency.

Black or Hispanic adults who experience cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting are substantially less likely to receive lifesaving care from a bystander. In spite of these survey results, the American Heart Association is working to change this by empowering members of these communities to learn lifesaving CPR, and a growing segment of respondents are willing to act in an emergency.
The American Heart Association’s 2023 survey also revealed that as a result of the organization’s efforts to change attitudes about performing CPR, which can lead to lifesaving results, more than half of African Americans said they would be willing to perform CPR in an emergency compared to 37% two years ago. Additionally, Hispanic and Latino respondents are more confident in their abilities to perform CPR.

Committed to turning a nation of bystanders into lifesavers, the American Heart Association’s multiyear initiative, Nation of Lifesavers, helps teens and adults learn how to perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED); share that knowledge with friends and family; and engage employers, policymakers, philanthropists and others to create support for a nation of lifesavers.

“Each of us has the power in our own hands to respond to a sudden cardiac arrest,” said Anezi Uzendu, M.D., American Heart Association expert volunteer. “We simply need to know what to do and have the confidence to act.”

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The long-term goal: to ensure that in the face of a cardiac emergency, anyone, anywhere is prepared and empowered to perform CPR and become a vital link in the chain of survival, aiming to double the survival rate of cardiac arrest victims by 2030. It takes just 90 seconds to learn how to save a life using HOCPR, which can be equally as effective as traditional CPR in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest.

Nationally supported by the Elevance Health Foundation, the American Heart Association’s HOCPR campaign is focused on chest compression-only CPR. If a teen or adult suddenly collapses due to a cardiac event, you can take two steps to save a life: immediately call emergency services and use these tips to begin performing HOCPR.

  1. Position yourself directly over the victim.
  2. Put the heel of one hand in the center of the chest and put your other hand on top of the first.
  3. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of 100-120 beats per minute, which is about the same tempo as the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, and at a depth of approximately 2 inches.
  4. Continue compressions and use an AED, if available, until emergency help arrives.

To learn more about how you could be the difference between life and death for someone experiencing a cardiac event, visit Heart.org/nation.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


SOURCE:
American Heart Association

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HEALTHY LIVING

Combating loneliness in older adults

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(Family Features) The bonds found in friendships and other relationships are an important factor in health and wellness – even science says so.

According to the American Psychological Association, forming and maintaining social connections at any age is one of the most reliable predictors of a healthy, happy and long life. Studies show having strong and supportive friendships can fend off depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rates in stressful situations and change the way people perceive daunting tasks.

However, statistics show approximately half of U.S. adults lack companionship and feel socially disconnected, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. In fact, 12% don’t have anyone they consider a close friend, per the Survey Center on American Life. This “epidemic of loneliness,” as coined by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, can take a severe toll on mental and physical health.

As people age, the risks of isolation increase. With America’s older population growing rapidly – the 65 and older population reached more than 55 million in 2020 – discussing how older adults can combat loneliness is relevant to public health and individual well-being.

Consider volunteering, which is one of the best and most rewarding ways to combat loneliness.

Volunteering Combats Loneliness
People often volunteer to find a sense of purpose, learn new skills, improve their communities or establish new routines after retiring or becoming empty nesters. For many, making friends through volunteer work is a welcome bonus. The act of volunteering provides proven benefits for older adults.

Forming connections can make all the difference in a person’s volunteer experience and sense of well-being. People who meet through volunteer work inherently share a common interest and something to bond over. These friendships can carry over outside of volunteer work and lead to bonding over other hobbies and interests.

Connection-Focused Volunteer Opportunities
In addition to making friends with fellow volunteers, many older adults also form relationships with the people they’re serving, especially if those recipients are their peers.

For example, AmeriCorps Seniors is the national service and volunteerism program in the federal agency of AmeriCorps that connects adults aged 55 and up to local service opportunities that match their interests. Its Senior Companion Program pairs volunteers with other older adults or those with disabilities who need companionship or assistance. Volunteers may help with tasks such as paying bills, shopping or getting companions to appointments. In some cases, volunteers may also provide support and respite for family members caring for loved ones with chronic illnesses.

“We often think of volunteering as ‘giving back,’ but we’ve seen firsthand that it often becomes so much more than that,” said Atalaya Sergi, director of AmeriCorps Seniors. “By spending a few hours each week with another older adult in need of support, our volunteers are not only giving back to others, but they’re adding meaning to their own lives and establishing new connections. They’re helping to fight the loneliness epidemic one visit at a time.”

Growing older can come with challenges, but some of those can be minimized with a positive mindset and commitment to remaining connected and engaged – whether with friends, relatives or fellow community members. Fostering relationships is a key ingredient to a healthier and more fulfilling life.

For more information and to find volunteer opportunities near you, visit AmeriCorps.gov/YourMoment.

Meet Friends Who Connected Through Service

Ray Maestas felt unfulfilled post-retirement and began volunteering with the AmeriCorps Seniors Senior Companion Program. He was connected with Bob Finnerty, a man with blindness looking for assistance a few days each week. They quickly struck up a routine of errands, reading and conversation that’s since become a friendship they both cherish.

“The Senior Companion Program has provided an avenue to enrich the lives of not only the participants but the people who are volunteering,” Maestas said. “Bob and I have gotten to the point where he’s a very important part of my life.”

Finnerty echoed those sentiments and shared his own appreciation for Maestas’ friendship.

“I’ve always relished my independence and I feel Ray is not just a person who reads for me – he’s a friend,” Finnerty said.

In the last few years, Maestas moved and now serves with a different chapter of the Senior Companion Program. He and Finnerty keep in touch. Maestas said they talk about every third day.


SOURCE:
AmeriCorps Seniors

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