July 14, 2006

Have A Heart: Treat It Right

By Esmeralda Servin

Heart disease is the leading killer of Latinos. According to the American Heart Association, 29 percent of Mexican-American men and women have cardiovascular disease nationally (CVD). CVD includes diseases of the heart, stroke, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, congenital cardiovascular defects, hardening of the arteries, and other diseases of the circulatory system.

Unfortunately, Mexican- Americans are likely to be unaware of cardiovascular disease symptoms, they do not seek treatment, or have the ability or resources to control heart disease according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet knowledge is the most important defense against cardiovascular disease.

Michelle Zive, M.S., R.D., director of the “5 a Day Program” in San Diego and Imperial County, says there are ways to lessen your chances of falling victim to heart disease. The first is to find ways to keep a healthy weight. The CDC reports that forty percent of California Latino adults are overweight and more than 1 out of 3 Latino adolescents in California are overweight or at risk for overweight.

According to Zive, small changes in your diet make a big difference. Try switching from whole milk to 1% or nonfat milk and drinking water instead of sodas or sweetened drinks. Try eating between 3 ½ to 6 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day.

Besides being naturally low in fat, dark green and rich orange colored produce have lots of vitamins and minerals to protect your heart.

“Eat more home prepared meals,” said Zive. “Research shows that people, who eat home prepared meals with the family, are less likely to over eat, and to eat more fruits and vegetables and drink less sodas.”

A healthy diet teamed with regular physical activity, is the ideal way to stay heart-healthy and keep your weight down. But it doesn’t mean you need to make changes in your life-style overnight.

“Start slowly,” says Zive. “If you don’t really do any physical activity, start with walking around the block. Try this at least three days a week. Then once you’ve walked around the block for a week or two, try walking two blocks—until you’re walking at least 20 minutes three times a week. The idea is to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day.”

Involving the family in physical activity is a great way to establish healthy habits. “Get outside and play with your kids, whether it’s soccer or football or walking to the store with them,” said Zive. “Physical activity should be fun.”

Kari Herzog, manager of Nutrition Link, a school-based nutrition education program, says “parents have a large influence on kids. By exercising and eating right, parents will be healthier, and their kids will notice, and be healthier, too.”

Sometimes work schedules can interfere with a regular exercise routine, but Zive suggests bringing physical activity into your everyday lifestyle.

“If you sit a lot during the day either at work or at home, get up every hour and walk around the office or house,” said Zive. “Or take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.”

Aside from changes in your diet and being active, avoiding behaviors like smoking will reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, there are five things you can do to change your health today:

• Smoking-Cigarette smoking greatly increases your chances of developing heart disease and is one of the culprits of a sudden heart attack. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of heart disease, increases blood pressure, decreases the amount of physical activity you can handle and increases the tendency for blood to clot, the American Heart Association reports.

• High blood pressure- By eating healthy, exercising and getting regular checkups Mexican-American women are less likely to have high blood pressure. Eating less salt can help lower high blood pressure.

• High cholesterol- Eating low fat foods can help reduce your blood cholesterol level, weight, and is a great way to prevent heart disease. It also sets a good example for your children. By getting tested you can find out if your cholesterol level is at a healthy mark.

• Diabetes- Your risk of heart disease greatly increases if you have diabetes, especially if the diabetes is not cared for properly. Also, compared with non-Hispanic whites, Mexican-Americans are more likely to have diabetes, the CDC reports.

• Obesity and inactivity -Regular exercise is the key to staying fit and it also decreases your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. According to the CDC, Mexican-Americans, compared with non-Hispanic whites, are more likely to be overweight or obese and are less likely to engage in physical activity.

For more information on how you can practice good eating habits—log on to: www.sd5aday.org or call 5 A Day at 1-888-EAT-FIVE.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s web site is also a great resource for Latinos and heart disease. For more information, log on to, www.nhlbi.nih.gov

Esmeralda Servin interned with the UCSD San Diego EXPORT Center and is a graduate of San Diego State University. The San Diego EXPORT Center is a partnership of organizations focusing on community minority health and health disparities research.

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