FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 13, 2014) -- Even though February is the shortest of all the months, it's still enough time to make some big improvements to your heart health.

Small steps each day, such as reducing sodium intake, exercising, and eating more fruits and vegetables can help your body make huge strides in fighting off heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, with about 600,000 people dying from the disease yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Heart disease may seem like something that is of no real concern to healthy, young service members, but young Soldiers will turn into old Soldiers one day -- healthy behavior now can help reduce the risk of life altering (or life ending) events as they age," said Capt. JoAnn Ward, Army public health nurse at Lyster Army Health Clinic.

Her advice, she said, is the same for Family members, as steps toward better health is best achieved when done as a group effort.

"As a nurse on the open heart and lung surgery ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I saw too many prior Soldiers and Family members struggle back to health after having their chest literally cracked open as a life saving measure," Ward said. "Ironically, the subsequent lifestyle changes these patients faced are also the recommended lifestyle choices to reduce the risk of heart disease."

So what makes a person at risk for heart disease Elevated blood pressure and cholesterol are key risk factors for heart disease, Ward said, as well as diabetes, obesity and lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, physical inactivity, excessive use of alcohol and smoking.

"This may seem like common knowledge, but heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of men and women in this country, so somehow, people aren't getting the message," Ward said, explaining that she became a public health nurse to encourage people to make healthy lifestyle changes, before health problems forced them to.

One of the main focuses of Army public health nurses (and civilian community health nurses) is health promotion -- reaching out to the community to offer health education that will increase the chances of preventing illness or injury with the aim at improving current and future quality of life.

"We are Lyster Army Health Clinic's liaisons for the Surgeon General, as we seek to get into the Lifespace of our community members," Ward said. "We want to be a source of information to help make life better between visits to the doctor."

Here are some simple changes to help improve your heart health: Read nutrition facts labels and look for lower sodium food options; eat more servings of fruits and vegetables a day; aim for 30 minutes of activity a day to include cardio and strength training; quit using tobacco products; limit alcohol intake; and talk to your primary care manager, Family and friends for support.

"Implementing health changes to reduce ones risk may not be a guarantee that a serious health issue will never occur, but positive preventive measures has been proven to give us all a better chance," Ward said.

For more information on heart disease or to speak with a public health nurse, call 255-7356.

Page last updated Thu February 13th, 2014 at 00:00