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On February 3, the Reunion Phoenix team united with thousands of healthcare professionals across the country to wear their hearts on their sleeves for National Wear Red Day. In 2002, the American Heart Association (or AHA) urged Americans to dress in red to raise awareness of the health risks of heart disease. While Wear Red Day occurs annually on the first Friday in February, the American Heart Association works hard to promote heart-healthy tips all month long in recognition of American Heart Month. In celebration of the 59th annual American Heart Month, Reunion is sharing our top five tips for cardiovascular health and discussing the importance of optimal heart health for inpatient rehab patients.

Why heart health matters in inpatient rehabilitation

Reunion Rehabilitation hospitals treat patients recovering from serious injuries and illnesses, including stroke, amputation, neuromuscular disorders, and hip and knee replacement surgeries. Heart health is, of course, critical in the treatment of each of these conditions because the heart provides the body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. The heart’s ability to distribute oxygen throughout the body is especially important for patients in stroke treatment since studies have shown that heart-pumping exercise can improve a stroke patient’s quality of life during recovery.

But other conditions, too, may impact heart health in unanticipated ways. Patients with lower-limb amputations, for example, have an increased risk for cardiovascular events after surgery. Similarly, patients recovering from hip replacements have a higher risk of heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, or blood clots in the vein. Fortunately, these events are largely preventable, which is why the Reunion physical and occupational therapy teams and our registered dietitians prioritize heart-healthy treatment for all patients.

To protect your heart inside and outside the hospital, our team recommends the following tips:

1. Stop smoking

It’s no secret that smoking negatively impacts your health, but smoking can be especially harmful to your heart and blood vessels. Smoking puts you at risk for atherosclerosis, or a plaque buildup in your arteries. Smoking also increases your risk for peripheral artery disease, which occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your organs, head, and limbs. PAD can put you at increased risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

2. Get active

One of the top five risk factors for heart disease is a sedentary or inactive lifestyle. The American Heart Association attributes an estimated 250,000 deaths per year to a regular lack of exercise. A sedentary lifestyle can also dramatically impact your quality of life. Sedentary people are at 35% greater risk of developing high blood pressure than physically active people are. Exercise can also help you raise your HDL cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for coronary events by 50%.

The AHA recommends Americans exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week (or 150 minutes) to reduce their risk of heart disease. For many of our patients, however, overcoming barriers to physical activity is not always easy so it is important to work with your rehab team to develop strategies to move past them regardless of your environmental circumstances or fitness.

3. Eat more fiber

The AHA recommends that women eat 25 grams of fiber per day and that men eat 38 grams per day. According to a 2002 study, however, most Americans simply aren’t getting enough fiber. Fiber is a carbohydrate that prevents heart disease by lowering both blood pressure and cholesterol. To lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, avoid foods with a high salt content and try to incorporate foods with soluble fiber (such as Brussels sprouts, apples, and pears) into your diet.

4. Manage stress

While doctors do not yet understand the correlation between stress and heart disease, they do know that managing stress helps many patients manage behaviors that contribute to heart disease (such as smoking or maintaining a sedentary lifestyle). By finding heart-healthy ways to manage your stress (such as exercise, journaling, or meditation) you may be able to curb habits that negatively impact your cardiovascular health (such as smoking or drinking excessively).

5. Get regular health screenings

For patients with a family history of heart disease, knowledge is power. By committing to regular health screenings, you can keep track of your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol numbers. Adults over the age of 40 should have their blood pressure measured once a year, their cholesterol levels measured every four to six years, and blood sugar and diabetes tested every three years.

While managing heart health through diet, exercise, and collaboration with your healthcare provider is important for everyone, it is especially important for patients recovering from serious injuries or illnesses. If you or a loved one need support managing your recovery to improve long-term outcomes, visit reunionrehabhospital.com to find a location near you.

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