February is 'American Heart Month': Ways to keep your heart healthy

PERRY COUNTY, Ky (WYMT) - Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. More than 600,000 lives per year are taken. February is 'American Heart Month', a time to focus on heart health strategies to reduce the risk of heart disease.

There are many different factors that lead to heart disease, which is why it is the number one killer.

"Obesity, from high blood pressure, from diabetes, from smoking, not exercising," said Dr. Key Douthitt, Medical Director at North Fork Community Health Center in Hazard.

When you think of diabetes you typically think about high blood sugar, but blood sugar does not make you necessarily feel bad.

"That is one of the reasons we screen for high blood sugar. Over time that high blood sugar in the bloodstream damages the arteries. And of course one of the smallest arteries and the arteries that are most important are the ones that lead to our heart," said Douthitt.

The blocking of these arteries is what leads to heart attacks and congestive heart failure. But there are ways to prevent that from happening.

"Eating a diet with few carbohydrates, exercising thirty minutes a day. Whether it is strenuous exercise or just walking all those things will help process the sugar in your body leading to lower blood pressure," he said.

Another important step is seeing a doctor regularly. While some may not have a health care provider checking your blood sugar is something you can do at home.

"With these finger stick blood sugar monitors you can check your blood sugar at home. Just keeping an eye on that can help you know whether you are in control."

Even if you cannot see a doctor, that will help you monitor on average how well your body is doing.

But doing all these activities is not what Dr. Douthitt says leads to the success of maintaining a healthy heart, rather, screening in other areas is vital.

"We have you speak to a counselor to screen for depression. We have you see a dentist."

With chronic diseases that patients fight over time, depression can start to set in, making it hard to be fully invested in your health.

"If we don't treat the depression you don't have the motivation to eat well, exercise and control your blood sugar," said Douthitt.

Other factors that some don't realize can attribute to heart failure is smoking and vaping.

"We know there is a high prevalence in Eastern Kentucky for tobacco abuse. It narrows the arteries, making it the number one risk factor," he said. "We preach to our young kids that vaping is still tobacco use."

The best thing to do is not to start because it is hard to quit.

"When people try to quit cold turkey, for the most part, they are not successful."

If you want to quit, tell your doctor.

"Vaping is not going to kill you today, diabetes is not going to kill you today. It is that long term effect. It is that building up over time that causes your arteries to clog."

At North Fork Community Center, they believe a healthy heart starts from the outside-in.

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