A month of heart love

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This is the last day of February, which means Heart Month is just about over. But, the need to take care of your ticker is a yeal-long matter. So, here are just a few reminders about how to love your heart.

Lesson 1: Take charge of your own health.

Nurse Debbie Best, a cardiac specialist at Covevenant, tells all of her patients, they are their own best health advocates.

"Many people are afraid to go to a doctor. Many people will come in here after a heart attack and say, 'I haven't been to a doctor in ten years.' You're setting yourself up for problems. You don't want to have a heart attack."

Lesson 2: Knowledge is power.

You should follow up after physicals, so you know your test results. Your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure are all numbers you need to know.

"When you don't have the baseline, it's really hard for us to tell, is this what you always have or is this different? " Debbie emphasizes, "I really think it's important to have that physician that has that baseline information, that you at least know what's going on with you."

Lesson 3: Watch for changes and know your body.

My cardiologist, Dr. Frank Tilli, of Genesys Heart Institute, was thrilled when, at my first visit, I handed him a journal, with a month's worth of blood pressure readings I took with my own blood pressure monitor. It helped him diagnose my hypertension.

"We can get a trend and we can look at it. And that's better, quite frankly, than what I'm doing here checking your blood pressure, because this can be an anxiety provoking situation for some individiuals," Tilli says.

Blood pressure over 120/80 is considered high. Here is a chart to help you understand those numbers.

Lesson 4: Make healthy diet changes.

Dr. Tilli recommends a heart healthy diet for patients, although he prefers "lifestyle change" to "diet". A changed lifestyle helped him lose over 100 pounds.

"What I suggest for all of us you, me everybody is what the experts recommend and they point to the Mediterranean diet," Tilli tells me.

Lesson 5: Work your heart.

Our hearts need exercise, at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 to 7 days a week. That means getting your heart rate up between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, and keeping it there.

Dr. Tilli spells it out, "About five minutes of time to warm up. About 20 minutes where you're actually giving a good effortand you get your heart rate in a nice target range and then five minutes to cool off."

To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. If you are 50, like me, that means your maximum is 170 bpm.

For more information about these calculations, visit the American Heart Association's website.

Lesson 6: Know your risk and symptoms.

Know your risk factors for heart disease and heart attack. and learn the symptoms of heart attack, too.

Know the symptoms of heart attacks. They can be very different for women, and often do not come on with that crushing- "elephant of the chest"- pain most of us think of.

Nausea, vomitting,- jaw, neck , back pain- shortness of breath- are all common, and often overlooked, symptoms in women.

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