A diagnosis of heart disease is a death sentence, true or false? If you said true, you’re correct. If you said false you are also correct. It’s a trick question. Being diagnosed with heart disease is a death sentence if you don’t do anything about it. The leading cause of death for all races and genders is heart disease. Once thought to be an old-people disease, we are seeing heart disease at increasingly younger ages as it is the primary killer of people over the age of 35. 49% of black women over the age of 20 have heart disease. Wow, that’s young!
49% of black women over the age of 20 have heart disease.
Heart disease is serious and shouldn’t be ignored, especially for black women. Every 34 seconds someone in the US has a heart attack. That means by the time you finish reading this sentence someone has had a heart attack. Lifestyle management is the key to preventing heart disease but what do you do when you already have it? Can it be reversed? In many cases, yes! Before we go down this path it’s important to note that you should be under the care of a physician during this stage.
A person may be diagnosed with heart disease if they have all or some of these factors: high cholesterol, obese or high BMI, high glucose levels, and high blood pressure. Additionally, if the person is sedentary (gets little exercise) they are at increased risk of these factors converging on a heart attack. Simply put the heart is having difficulty supplying blood to itself. Before the heart sends blood around the body it first makes sure it gets the blood it needs to keep working. First and foremost if you don’t know your numbers you can visit a clinic to get a screening for cheap or even free. There are also diagnostic services such as Life Line Screening that conduct screenings in communities across the country. Second step is once you know your numbers go to a doctor immediately if they come back abnormal. You should of course start with your regular physician but if he/she doesn’t believe in a holistic approach balancing lifestyle and medical management try a second opinion.
The Duke Center for Integrative Medicine is an example of an institution that balances lifestyle with medical management. That means they focus on nutrition, exercise, medicine and mental health to treat the disease. There are similar organizations across the country. If you can’t afford these integrative centers push your doctor on preventative care that is now covered under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Learn more about health insurance coverage here.
What does this center and others like it focus on? They look at natural remedies and western medicine in conjunction with the person they are treating. It also depends on where you are in the progression of the disease. If you require surgery to remove blockages or for bypass you may be given a more aggressive plan of action. Even if you are in the advanced stages there may still be hope for you in turning things around.
Duke’s plan is outlined in an article from Prevention Magazine. In general, here are some of the things you can do to reverse heart disease.
1. Up your nutrition game. Say good-bye to fast foods, probably for the rest of your life depending on where you are in the disease progression. If you are diagnosed with heart disease you may have passed the point where you can partake in high fat, high sodium foods every once in a while. Start eating foods that are high in fiber such as fruits and vegetables and high in omega-3, these are heart healthy foods. You can also add in nuts and flax seeds. These small foods pack a big punch. Work with a nutritionist to determine your daily meal plans. Throw in some oatmeal too which has been shown to reduce cholesterol. Limit foods high in carbs, such as bread and pasta, as they raise your blood sugar levels sharply. If you eat bread choose whole grain breads without high fructose corn syrup. Stick with foods high in protein and fiber to fill you up faster and fuel you longer. Your nutrition is a key factor in weight loss and in fixing your body.
2. Bottoms up. Drink plenty of water. The base amount of water you need will help the body flush toxins out of your system. To calculate how much water you need per day divide your weight in half. Drink that amount of water in ounces per day. Meaning if you weigh 150 pounds you should be drinking 75 ounces of water daily. Up that amount if you are exercising or if it’s extremely hot or cold outside. You can add in fruit juice no more than two glasses a day. However, it should be 100% fruit juice no sugar added. Better yet, opt to juice your own fruits and vegetables at home if you can. This will cut down on the amount of sugar found in juice and ups your intake of fiber. If you can, partake of a glass of red wine. It contains resveratrol which has been shown to have heart healthy benefits. Try green tea which is believed to have multiple health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol due to the antioxidants. Avoid sodas, even diet sodas. Artificial sweeteners are no better for you than sugar.
3. We like to move it, move it. No way around this one. You must move your body. The body is designed to move. It helps the heart move blood around the body, it aids with digestion and brain function. And, of course, aids in weight loss. Even if you just walk 15 minutes a day you will experience great cardiovascular benefits. Your heart is a muscle and only exercise can strengthen it. There are all types of exercises available for various skill levels and abilities. Good old walking ranks right up there with the best of them. If you need to, start slow and build up. As your body gets stronger you will find it will demand more exercise and better nutrition for fuel.
4. Go to bed. The benefits of sleep are highly underrated. It’s like a badge of honor these days to say you get so little sleep. There are processes in our bodies that can’t even happen until we are asleep, repairing our bodies is one of them. Adults should be getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep per day. Sleep deprivation is as dangerous as driving under the influence. It also weakens our immune system. The immune response isn’t just for fighting off colds, it plays a key role in repairing our blood vessels as well.
5. Relax, relate, release. Stress releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone contributes to the build up of belly fat. It can wear a body down. Though it may be difficult you must find time and methods to deal with stress. Stress can up your blood pressure putting increased pressure on your heart.
6. Create a community of supporters. Laughing has medicinal properties. So does petting a dog or cat. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people will help keep you motivated in working toward your goal. Hopefully your first line of defense is your family. They should be supporting your nutrition and exercise plan of action. But if not, you can create that community yourself. If you are participating in an integrated program chances are they have support groups or people who exercise together. At the end of the day you need a group of cheerleaders.
7. Stay compliant. Help your doctor help you. If you are prescribed medications take them. Stick to your lifestyle management plan and go in for checkups as needed. Your doctor should be your partner. If you feel he/she isn’t taking your needs into account or isn’t listening don’t be afraid to find someone else. However, if your doctor is holding you accountable and you just don’t like it, that is not a good reason to leave.
By the way, these are also good ways to prevent heart disease in the first place. If you are further along in your disease progression there is absolutely still hope. Doctors such as Dean Ornish have spent their careers creating programs to reverse heart disease, no matter how sick you are. He wrote a book about it 20 years ago and the lessons still apply. Dr. Ornish focuses on empowering people to make better choices and also adapt to their lifestyle. The key is you have to do it. You have to be a participant in saving your own life. Share this post with someone you love and comment below. As black women we can’t afford to take our lives for granted. At this rate, we are going to be extinct.
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