Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women of most ethnicities in the United States, as well as a main cause of disability. Among Latinas, heart disease is the second leading cause of death, following cancer. Hispanic women face high rates of diabetes, obesity, and physical inactivity, which in turn increases the risk of developing heart disease.
The month of February is dedicated to raising heart health awareness through American Heart Month and the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Campaign that focuses specifically on the impact of heart disease on U.S. women of all backgrounds and ethnicities.
Given that heart disease and diabetes are so closely related, and that diabetes disproportionately affects U.S. Hispanics, NHCOA is joining the millions of people throughout the country who are raising heart disease awareness this month.
While heart disease is scary for both patients and family members, there are ways to control it from worsening as well as preventive measures that can be taken to lower the risk of heart disease.
In order to know what steps to take to help improve your heart health, we must first understand what heart disease entails and what the specific risk factors are.
What is heart disease?
There are several forms of heart disease, the most common form being coronary heart disease or CHD. It is usually referred to as “heart disease” and consists of a disorder in the heart’s blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack. Heart attacks usually occur when an artery is blocked, keeping oxygen and nutrients from reaching the heart. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the affected section of heart muscle begins to die.
Heart disease is a lifelong condition. Once you get it, you will always have it. However, sustainable changes in your daily habits can improve your heart health and the progression of the disease.
What are the risk factors for heart disease among Latinos and Latinas?
Risk factors are conditions or habits that increase the chances of either developing a disease or the disease worsening. In the case of heart disease, having one or more risk factors dramatically increases the chance of developing it because risk factors tend to worsen each other’s effects. There are two types of heart disease risk factors: those you can control and those you can’t.
Among the risk factors you can’t change are:
- Family history of heart disease
- History of preeclampsia
The risk factors you can change are those that are affected by healthy lifestyle changes, and in some cases, taking medication. These include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating habits and diet, stress, sleep apnea, and diabetes and prediabetes.
The link between heart disease and diabetes
An estimated 30% of Hispanics adults have diabetes, but as many as half don’t realize it. When untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications, which includes and is not limited to heart disease. Many of the risk factors for diabetes are the same for heart disease, so it is safe to say that leading a healthy lifestyle that helps you prevent or manage diabetes also protects you from heart disease. Given that the risk of diabetes among Hispanics is almost twice as high than non-Hispanic whites of similar age, protecting your heart and overall health is particularly important.
How to reduce the risk of heart disease and other complications from diabetes
Salud y Bienestar is centered around sustainable healthy lifestyle changes, which includes eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods that are low in salt and fat, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Food preparation is also key as the Latino diet is inclined towards frying food instead of steaming, baking or grilling. Lastly, portion control and scheduled meals help you nourish your body and help maintain your blood glucose as leveled as possible throughout the day.
Physical activity is another aspect of achieving a healthier lifestyle. Exercise should fit each person’s specific needs and limitations, but also be fun and appealing. Brisk walking, dancing, tai chi, and low-impact aerobics are some of the activities that are appropriate for Hispanic older adults.
Finally, scheduling and attending regular check-ups with your doctor as well as measuring your blood glucose and blood pressure are key to staying healthy. If you have a prescription, take the medicine as prescribed by your doctor. Also, ask your doctor about aspirin therapy to prevent heart disease, and if it works for you.
Outreach and education is another important component of Salud y Bienestar. Through interactive presentations and popular education games, Latino seniors learn about diabetes prevention and management, as well as how to implement the lifestyle changes to improve their health.
Together, we can lead healthier lifestyles to protect ourselves from, or effectively control, diabetes and heart disease.
NHCOA’s signature program Salud y Bienestar (Health and Well-Being) provides participants with culturally and linguistically appropriate tools to prevent and manage diabetes. Salud y Bienestar is sponsored by the Walmart Foundation.