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Local Agencies Pumping Out Healthy Tips For Heart Month



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A big part of Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert’s community focus every February comes straight from the heart.

As the point person during American Heart Month here in Newtown, which was long ago designated one of Connecticut’s 110 HeartSAFE Communities by the Connecticut Department of Public Health Office of Emergency Medical Services in collaboration with the American Heart Association, she has been working to reinforce a few basic messages about maintaining and improving everyone’s cardiovascular health.

“February is Heart Health Month, and it is an ideal time to review our health and our goals,” Ms Culbert told The Newtown Bee. “What we learn about our own health and the actions we take can carry us to better health throughout the whole year.”

One of the key elements to help maintain heart health, she explained, is knowing your numbers.

“During a heart check up, your doctor takes a careful look at your ‘numbers,’ including cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, height/weight/waist and BMI (body mass index), blood sugar, and more,” the health director said. “Knowing your numbers can empower you and is an important part of keeping your heart healthy. Knowledge is power. It can help you and your doctor know your risks and mark the progress you are making toward a healthier you.”

To help expand that message in the community, on February 5, Ms Culbert and Joan Santucci, community health nurse from the Bethel VNA, with support from the Newtown VNA, met with seniors at the Newtown Senior Center to discuss heart health, what “knowing your numbers” means, and the various risk factors seniors can control to reduce the risk of heart disease.

“Joan reviewed numbers and answered questions regarding numbers, and also emphasized that the numbers are specific to the person,” Ms Culbert said. “We don’t want people to be overly concerned about their numbers — we want people to seek out their health status, and pay attention to trends and goals.”

The health director said if one’s numbers are in a desirable range, that is good. It is important to recognize the protective factors that help achieve that range and to notice if the numbers are consistent or moving in any direction.

“If your numbers are not in a desirable range, again, recognize factors, and work with health care providers and members of your circle, friends, family, pets, neighbors, who may be able to help move you in a desirable direction,” she said. “It is not reasonable or healthy to saddle yourself with unrealistic expectations for a big change in numbers. Just set achievable goals, working for a gradual change in the desired direction.”

When counseling local seniors, Ms Culbert said she shared ideas from Tatiana Denning, DO, a family medicine physician, who she feels speaks more to lifestyle and mindset, hoping to complement the community nurse’s realistic clinical perspective.

“It takes more than eating and exercising to age well,” Ms Culbert said. “There are less-talked-about things that can be just as important. The doctor’s experience with some healthy older patients revealed some commonalities.” Some of Dr Denning’s key points included being disciplined, minding your thoughts, being kind, being active in body and mind, cultivating relationships, unplugging, and getting a good night’s rest.

Be Disciplined

According to Dr Denning, following recommendations for eating healthy, exercising, and drinking plenty of water all requires self-discipline. Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. Self-discipline can make the difference between making progress with your goals and staying in your same old routine.

Planning ahead and sticking to a schedule can keep patients on track with healthy habits. This takes structure and discipline, but as with anything, it becomes easier the more you do it. Studies show that the amount of time it takes for a new habit to become automatic varies, but on average, it takes about 66 days. So in two to three months, most people will have created a rhythm with their new routine.

And when life inevitably throws a curve ball, do not let it put you off track. The very next chance you get, just do what you should do.

Mind Your Thoughts

Our thoughts matter more than we may realize, Dr Denning related. “If we’re not careful, they can lead us down a path to poor health,” she said. It is easy to go along with our thoughts, even if they are not good for us, but we should not believe every thought that comes to mind. If our thoughts fo not align with what we want to do, and who we want to be, we should replace then with positive, beneficial thoughts.

It is well known in the medical community that thoughts impact health. Negative thoughts weaken our immune system and cause increased levels of pain, elevated blood pressure, poor sleep, and more.

Be Kind, Stay Active

Random acts of kindness have been shown to increase hormones like oxytocin and serotonin and improve everything from blood pressure to depression to heart health. Few things can make you happier than making someone else feel better, Dr Denning believes.

Kindness is both teachable and contagious. Random acts of kindness can really brighten someone else’s day, and perhaps even inspire that person to pass it along.

At the same time, staying physically active is important, she said, but people often forget that includes mental fitness. Many healthy elderly patients are engaged in life and are sometimes busier in retirement than they were when working.

Studies have shown that keeping the brain active can improve health. Reading a good book, doing crossword puzzles, or memorizing phone numbers rather than relying on technology can all strengthen our brains. Learning a new instrument or language has been shown to increase neuronal connections in the brain and improve brain health.

Physical exercise does not have to be done at the gym. Something as simple as taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood, yoga, or doing things around the house can provide daily activity our bodies need.

A project like planting and tending a small garden can not only get us off the sofa but also provide us with low-cost, nutritious food we can feel good about. Learning a new skill such as woodworking or tennis can provide both a mental and physical outlet.

Cultivate Relationships & Unplug

Healthy elderly patients have one thing in common — they socialize regularly with friends and family. The American Psychological Association notes that quality relationships affect many aspects of physical and mental health, including better immune function, improved cardiovascular health, less depression, and even lowered incidents of cancer.

This older generation has enjoyed regular face-to-face contact since they were young, in the days before screens and endless activity devoured human social connection.

With social media now dominating our interactions, the face-to-face relationship is gradually being lost. That gives rise to a recommendation to unplug as often as possible.

Technology certainly has its perks — it can keep us connected while putting endless information at our fingertips. But too much tech time may not be a good thing, Dr Denning said.

“We now seem to be in need of constant mental stimulation. We don’t know the long-term health effects of our tech obsession, but many experts have serious concerns, especially with regard to a child’s developing brain,” she added. “The inordinate amounts of time we spend on screens has spurred technology addiction treatment centers to crop up across the country.”

Several studies have verified the costs of a sedentary lifestyle and the relationship between too much screen time and health.

A Good Night’s Rest

Sleep is vital to our well-being, Dr Denning reminds everyone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night, noting that one in three adults fails to get the amount of sleep they need.

Lack of sleep impacts our health in a variety of ways, leading to things such as depression and irritability, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, impaired immune function, diabetes, and heart disease to name just a few.

It is important to develop a good sleep routine, like going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, not using technology for at least thirty minutes prior to bed, doing something relaxing like taking a warm bath or having a cup of chamomile tea, and putting your worries aside.

A good rest gives our bodies and minds a chance to balance and heal.

For more heart healthy information, contact the Newtown Health District at 203-270-4291, or visit https://www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth/index.html or https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics#.WkuaxFWnHIU.

As the point person during American Heart Month here in Newtown, which was long ago designated one of Connecticut’s 110 HeartSAFE Communities by the Connecticut Department of Public Health Office of Emergency Medical Services in collaboration with the American Heart Association, Health District Director Donna Culbert has been working to reinforce a few basic messages about maintaining and improving everyone’s cardiovascular health.
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