Spring 2021

A Start to a Healthy Heart

By Lauren Hurwitz

This month, medical professionals across the country celebrate “Go Red for Women” – an American Heart Association campaign empowering women to know the symptoms and their risk for the number one killer of all women – cardiovascular disease. Jennifer Miller, Executive Director for the American Heart Association says the campaign was created about 17 years ago to raise the awareness level, and level of dialogue among women when it comes to heart health, and to make them feel more empowered to address their symptoms and not be dismissed – especially in the ER. 

What You Need to Know

Dr. Damara Gutnick, President of the American Heart Association’s Westchester Board of Directors says knowing personal health numbers like total cholesterol, blood sugar, BMI and blood pressure can literally save a life. In addition, knowing family history about heart disease and stroke, and sharing that with a doctor can make a huge difference so that he or she can properly think about your risk and possible diagnosis. A first visit with your physician will help calculate your risk factors such as age, weight, if you smoke, and your overall lifestyle habits. Depending on what is determined at the appointment, you may need to be seen more regularly to keep an eye on your health. In addition, Dr. Gutnick suggests visiting the Mayo Clinic’s website and clicking on their Heart Risk Disease Calculator to get a free, individualized assessment for your risk over the next 30 years, in less than 90 seconds. 

In addition to making sure all women know the warnings signs of a heart attack or stroke like shortness of breath, worsening exercise tolerance, or pain, Dr. Gutnick works to promote health equity. Noting black and Hispanic women are disproportionally affected by heart disease, Dr. Gutnick hopes to improve the quality and access to care for the entire population here in Westchester County. “There are significant differences and barriers based on structural racism that have led to the disparities in health outcomes for women of colors in general. [For example,] if you don’t have access to healthy food during a pandemic when the food bank is giving out millions of pounds of food each month because of an increase in food insecurity, it’s hard to stay healthy when they’ll take any food that is provided.” 

Eat Your Way to a Healthier Heart

West Harrison resident and nationally celebrated health and nutrition expert, #1 New York Times bestselling author, Joy Bauer, can often be seen on the Today Show sharing her tips and tricks. Specific to heart health, she recommends eating more produce, thinking small and reimagining your favorite indulgences. 

Bauer suggested adding “a produce item to every meal. [Choose] produce high in volume and low in calories so it fills you up without filling you out, so it can help you lose or manage weight. Veggies and fruit also shower your body with important nutrients, vitamins and minerals, like fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, and potassium, which can help manage blood pressure. Plus, antioxidants in produce can help tame inflammation. At breakfast, add berries to oatmeal or stuff your omelet with mushrooms and spinach. At lunch, layer your sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes and onions—and enjoy crunchy carrots on the side. And start dinner with a salad and enjoy green beans or broccoli with your fish or chicken.”   

Bauer is a fan of “smaller, short-term goals [since they] can be even more powerful because they reinforce success every step of the way. Set weekly health goals that are concrete and obtainable. For example, one week, commit to trying a new fitness class or experiment with two unfamiliar fruits or vegetables. The next week commit to brown bagging your lunch to work each day. Another week, you can choose to prepare two new recipes for dinner that week, and so on. Then celebrate these mini-achievements (with non-food rewards) so you’re reminded that hard work pays off. 

She believes “restrictive eating and deprivation diets don’t work. Go ahead and enjoy all your favorite comfort foods whenever you want without worrying about calories, sugar, fat, carbs and guilty aftermath. The secret: Learning to health-ify them with simple strategies. Love pasta? Enjoy spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles instead of starchy spaghetti. In the mood for rice? Try cauliflower rice instead of the regular white version. Love cake? Make a single-serve mug cake so there’s no tempting leftovers.”

Flavoring food in a smart way is an easy way to take control of your heart health. Bauer says, “Sodium can increase blood pressure, and hypertension or high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. Most healthy people should consume no more than 2,300 mg daily; the cap drops to 1,500 mg for those who have hypertension or are at risk of heart disease. You can flavor up foods using fresh or dried herbs and spices, lemon, lime, garlic, onions and so on. When shopping for canned soups, beans and other items, opt for no-salt-added or reduced sodium varieties. And always compare labels to choose the lowest sodium options.”

Lastly, make going to the grocery store easier on yourself, and your heart. “If you can plan at least a few home-cooked meals each week, that’s amazing! Then, make a list of the ingredients you’d need for each. Try to stick as closely as you can to your list,” says Bauer. She suggests being an “outsider” at the store. 

“Typically, the healthiest staples are located on the perimeter of the store (low-fat milk and yogurt, produce, lean protein, etc.) Try to make most purchases from these areas,” she says. And of course, checking labels is key. “You’re looking to minimize added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium content. Remember, less is best. Bonus points for products that feature ingredients you know and can pronounce.”

New for 2022

Raising about $700,000 annually enables the AHA to launch new projects and services through Go Red with funds being put to work here in Westchester. Miller says this year, the organization is expanding it’s local blood pressure monitor program. Right now, Westchester residents can visit a handful of local libraries to check-out a free blood pressure cuff to monitor levels and check for hypertension, no proof of health insurance required. New to 2022, there will now be a public healthcare worker at the specific locations once or twice a month to answer questions and connect patients back to care who can follow up. Locations include Yonkers Riverfront, White Plains, Mount Vernon, Peekskill and Ossining libraries. 

Miller is also excited to expand Go Red to focus on pre-natal, pregnancy and post-partum care. “These are women who are at the top of their game in terms of health – young healthy vibrant and they’re dying. We need to address this population of women especially as they go through a pregnancy so their health can be optimal during this time in their life.”

Those who want to be involved in raising funds for the AHA and their health programs should check the Go Red website for more information about a series of upcoming auctions, evening events in person and online, and digital ways to fundraise to support their programs throughout the year.