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Representatives of EAMC-Lanier Hospital were at Thursday’s meeting of the West Point Rotary Club encouraging everyone to take the steps necessary to keep a healthy heart. From left, are Marshall Sapp, club member; Cindy Brooks, business development, EAMC-Lanier; cardiac rehab specialist Kathe Briggs and Victoria Pellerin, Auburn University intern, majoring in heath care administration. --Wayne Clark

Briggs gives Rotary Club tips on staying healthy

LANETT — For some time now, February has been observed as American Heart Month. The goal of Heart Month is for everyone to be aware that heart and blood vessel diseases affect many, many people nationwide and that the public should support all essential programs designed to solve the problem.

During the noon hour on Thursday, Kathe Briggs, cardiac rehab specialist with the East Alabama Medical Center and EAMC-Lanier Hospital, spoke to members of the West Point Rotary Club on ways to protect the heart, warning signs to look out for and the importance of following Life’s Simple 7.

Following the Simple 7 greatly improves one’s chances of maintaining a healthy heart. These simple steps involve:

(1) Get active and move more. It’s a good idea to exercise at a moderate level for at least 150 minutes per week.

(2) Eat better. Track what you eat, set realistic goals and make slow changes.

(3) Lose weight. An ideal body weight makes for a healthy heart.

(4) Avoid smoking. For those who don’t smoke, don’t start, and for those who do quit and maintain it.

(5) Control cholesterol. Have total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL.

(6) Manage your blood pressure. Keep it below 120/80 mm Hg.

(7) Reduce your blood sugar. Keep it below 100 mg/dL.

“It’s important to get moving,” said Briggs, who has a degree in exercise physiology. “Never sit longer than an hour. Stand up and move around some. Standing up and sitting down several times in a row is good for you. If you do something well, raise your hand and pat yourself on the back.”

When it comes to diet, the heart can be kept healthy by eating more vegetables, less fried food and drinking more water and less sweet tea and soda.

Briggs and her husband moved to east-central Alabama from Dallas, Texas several years ago. Not long after they moved here, they were in a restaurant and she noticed a young mother pouring the milk out of her baby’s bottle and putting in sweet tea. “If it’s not milk, let them drink water,” she said.

Briggs is participating in the current Scale Back Alabama effort and has a goal of losing 10 pounds by the first of April. She said that it won’t be easy, but if she does it she will feel better about herself. She encourages others to lose weight sensibly as well.

“I want you to eat better, be active and to avoid smoking,” she said.

She said there’s no such thing as safe smoking, pointing to recent research concluding that e-cigarettes may be just as bad as other forms of tobacco.

“Nicotine is addictive,” she said. “You can get addicted by smoking seven cigarettes. Once you start it’s hard to stop. If you, a friend or family member smokes, you need to get out of it.”

Briggs said that cholesterol is the fat in your blood and diabetes is the sugar.

“You should know your blood pressure numbers and keep up with them,” she said. “A lot of people have diabetes and don’t know it. They won’t until they are tested for it. It’s a chronic disease, and once you have it you have it. You can control it with diet and exercise, but it’s always simmering in your background,”

There’s a school of thought that risk factors are inherited.

“Diabetes and heart disease go hand in hand,” Briggs said. “They have the same risk factors. We can’t pick our parents. If your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents had diabetes or heart disease you’re more likely to have it than someone who doesn’t have it in their family.”

Briggs said that the human heart is a muscle whose job is to pump blood to every cell in the body.

“If something happens to that pump you are in trouble,” she said. “If you are having a heart attack, the quicker you can get to a hospital the better off you will be. If you have ever had a heart-related event, it is so important for you to go through a cardiac rehab program. Our challenge is to get you there. Many people choose not to go, and that’s not wise. My wish for you is to have a long, healthy and productive life.”

Briggs wants everyone to know the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke.

“Most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort,” she said. “Often, people affected aren’t sure of what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help.”

Warning signs include:

  • Chest discomfort. Most of the time it’s at the center of the chest and can last for more than a few minutes. Sometimes it can go away and return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, the neck, the jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This can happen with, or without, chest discomfort.

Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

According to the American Stroke Association, the warning signs of a stroke include:

  • Sudden numbness, or weakness, of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination. Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.