Home > A Wake Up Call: Play it Smart. Take Care of Your Heart-Expert advice from Highmark medical director, Dr. Rhonda Johnson

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A Wake Up Call: Play it Smart. Take Care of Your Heart
Expert advice from Highmark medical director, Dr. Rhonda Johnson
Do you want to be around to enjoy your family? Would you like to increase your chances of attending your grandkids graduations?
Change your lifestyle now – play it smart! Start living healthy, and take care of your heart!
Did you know that heart disease and stroke are the #1 and #3 killers of African Americans? Fortunately, you can take action to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Take action now. 
Here are a few tips:
·         Control your blood pressure: High blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease. When your blood pressure is high, your heart has to work harder. High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because it often has no symptoms. Having high blood pressure raises your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, blindness and death. Get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. A normal blood pressure is below 120/80. If your numbers are 120/80 to 139/89, you have prehypertension. This means you are more likely to end up with high blood pressure. Your blood pressure is high if it is 140/90. Ask your doctor how to lower it. Check your blood pressure often if your blood pressure is high.
·         Cut down on salt: Using less salt is key to keeping blood pressure at a healthy level. Eat fruits and vegetables for snacks instead of salty chips or crackers. Drain the liquid from canned vegetables, beans, tuna and rinse before cooking to help remove some sodium. Eat less processed foods such as hotdogs, sausage, bologna, pepperoni, salami, ham, pickles and olives. Use reduced sodium foods and reduced sodium condiments (such as soy sauce, bouillon cubes and ketchup) when possible. Add spice and herbs to flavor food – try cinnamon, chili powder, garlic powder, basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, and sage to spice up your cooking! And, remember to remove the salt shaker from the table and don’t add it while cooking!
·         Cigarette smoking: If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. And avoid other’s tobacco smoke. Cigarette smoking is the single greatest preventable cause of premature death in our country. Some people can quit “cold turkey.” Others need help quitting. Talk to your health care provider about a stop-smoking plan that can help you. If you are a Highmark member, there are many free resources available to help you jump start and follow through with a smoking cessation plan. Login to the member website to access online smoking cessation programs, or call the number on the back of your member ID card for more information. Also, there are free websites that offer advice and resources on quitting such as the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Determined to Quit.com, and Tobacco Free Allegheny.  
·         Eat heart healthy foods: Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk products. Choose lean meats, chicken without the skin and fish. Cook with small amounts of fats and oils. Yes, that means baking the chicken instead of frying it! Now, I am not saying that you have to totally give up eating fried chicken; just try baking it most of the time and frying it for “special occasions.” Choose water or sugar-free beverages instead of soda pop. Lastly, do read those food labels and avoid foods high in salt (sodium), sugar and fat.
·         Watch your weight and increase your physical activity: Take steps to lose weight if you are overweight. Eat smaller portions and be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day. Always check with your healthcare provider prior to starting a physical activity program if you have a health problem.
·         Take your medicines: If you have high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, take your medication the way your doctor tells you. Do not share your medication with friends or family. If you can’t afford your medication, tell your doctor. There may be programs that can help you buy your medicine. When you go to the doctor, take all of your medications with you. Know the names of your medications, when to take it and know the side effects, if any, to watch out for.
·         Keep your cholesterol in checkCholesterol is a fatty-like substance found in your body. Having high cholesterol levels can lead to clogged arteries, which increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. Have your blood cholesterol checked. A general guide to total cholesterol numbers: less than 200 is good; 200 to 239 means you have borderline high levels and anything above 240 is too high. To lower your cholesterol, watch out for saturated and trans fats – these are the fats that raise blood cholesterol levels the most. They can be found in high-fat meats, cheese, whole milk, butter, fried foods, baked products (cookies, crackers, pies, pastries). 
When it comes to a healthier lifestyle, make sure you and your family follow a healthy path. As for me, I try to prepare healthier food for my family. I have committed myself to physical activity on most days of the week. I want to pass on the gift of healthy living and long life to future generations – don’t you? You don’t need to totally transform the way you live overnight. Even small changes can make a big difference, so I encourage you to take action now. No matter what, keep trying!
Dr. Rhonda Johnson is the medical director of health equity and quality services at Highmark Inc. She leads Highmark’s efforts to reduce racial and ethnic health care disparities among Highmark members through clinical interventions and improvements in health literacy, language access and health-plan cultural competency.
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