How You Can Improve Heart Health: An Interview with Emily Reneau of the American Heart Association

I had the opportunity to sit down with Emily Reneau, the Business Development Director for the American Heart Association (AHA) recently. She shared with me the statistics on heart related incidents, how we as individuals can stay healthy and what we can do to help our employees and others locally. Here's an excerpt from our conversation:

Jill: "I recently read that Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. This means it causes 1 death every 40 seconds. How many patients are seen in San Luis Obispo county for heart disease each year?"

Emily: "We don’t have exact numbers on that however we do know that the death rate according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control shows 93.6* deaths per every 100,000 people per year."

*In San Luis Obispo County with a population over 269,000 that is approximately 251 deaths per year. This doesn’t account for all the people who have a cardiovascular incident, get care and live.

Jill: "Heart Disease is also considered the number 1 killer of women. How does this disease affect women differently than men?"

Emily: "Heart disease is the number one killer of women age 25 and over. It claims nearly half a million female lives each year, almost one life per minute. More lives are lost every year to heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Movement was started to bring public awareness to these facts*."

*An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease. Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen. While one in 30 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease causes one in three deaths among women each year. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are more likely than men to have some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Emily: “There is some good news though. Over the last ten years, the American Heart Association has created Women’s Specific Guidelines to educate physicians on the diagnosis and treatment of women. And 2,000 Health Care Systems have signed on to their Get with the Guidelines Program ensuring proper care and treatment. We’ve come to realize that women’s symptoms are different and have educated millions of women through the vast resources offered through the Go Red for Women Movement. Over $300 million dollars have been raised in support of research and education."

Jill: "There is a controversial report out showing evidence that there is no link between Cholesterol and Heart Disease. What does the AHA do when new research comes out that conflicts with its current doctrine?"

Emily: “The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association publish medical

guidelines and scientific statements on various cardiovascular disease and stroke topics that are presented annually at our Scientific Sessions. Impartial AHA/ASA volunteer scientists and healthcare professionals write the statements. The statements are supported by scientific studies published in recognized journals and have a rigorous review and approval process. Scientific statements generally include a review of data available on a specific subject, an evaluation on its relationship to overall cardiovascular disease science, and often an AHA/ASA position on the basis of that evaluation. This way we can feel confident that recommendations are properly vetted.”

Jill: Most people have heard that there is a link between sugar and diabetes. What is the link between sugar and heart disease?

Emily: “Getting to much added sugar in your diet could significantly increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. According to a study published in JAMA in April 2014, those who got 17 to 21 percent of calories from added sugar* had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed only 8 percent of their calories from added sugar. Foods that contain added sugar have long been cited for contributing to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

*Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. The AHA recommends no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories a day of added sugar for most women and no more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories a day for most men. One can of soda is equal to 8.75 teaspoons of sugar or 140 calories. The study also showed that most U.S. adults consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day.

Jill: "What is the relationship between stress and coronary artery disease?"

Emily: "When we are stressed we often change our behaviors to manage the stress. This often leads to smoking, physical inactivity and overeating. These behaviors negatively impact our health and can cause high blood pressure, increased cholesterol levels and lead to overall increased heart disease risk."

Jill: "There have been many studies on meditation and how it reduces stress in the body.Can meditation really help reduce your risk?"

Emily: "The relaxation that one gets from meditation should calm the tension in our mind and body. Other good forms of relaxation are yoga, tai chi, massage. Anything one can do to create a feeling of relaxation can help decrease heart related risk."

Jill: "We live in a rural area and are very lucky to have a top rated cardiac center here in San Luis Obispo at French Hospital. But how do we avoid using it? What can we do to improve our overall heart health?"

Emily: "We at the AHA like to go back to Life’s Simple 7 which are:

1. Quit Smoking

2. Manage Weight

3. Get Active

4. Manage Blood Sugar

5. Eat Healthy Foods

6. Control Cholesterol

7. Manage blood pressure

The AHA also has an online assessment called My Life Check. This tool will

assess your risk for heart disease and give tools and tips for improvement."

Jill: Are there any programs that our business community should know about to improve heart health in their employees and or clients?

Emily: "Our Healthy For Good platform was launched last June and calls on the community and businesses to get and stay healthy by recognizing ways and means in which to do so. Programs include our ever popular Heart & Stroke Walk that happens this year on September 17th in Avila. This is a celebratory event to our year long campaign. Recruitment for company participation and sponsorship is happening now. This campaign not only supports our mission to get the community more active but it is also our most successful and robust fundraiser for research and education. I would love and encourage businesses and community members to set up a meeting with me this month to discuss involvement early in the year to gain maximum benefit aligning with our mission. We have created an East Team Heart Walk Sign Up Page that people can join to participate in your group walk. And any other company can do the same to have their own page where their employees or clients can sign up."

Emily can be reached at: or Call: 805-602-0435

#Heart #Cardiovascularhealth #Stroke #AmericanHeartAssociation

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