Healthy Life

Healthy lifestyle is key to heart health, JMU expert says

Harrisonburg, Virginia — Each year, the month of February is dedicated to raising awareness for heart health. With heart disease as the number one cause of death in the United States, healthy habits are key to prevention.

JMU health sciences professor Santo Coleman provides answers to important heart health questions.

What are some common heart problems?

Many times, the most common heart problems go undetected for years and are asymptomatic in the early stages. The two most common heart-related diseases are commonly known as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. They often work hand in hand. Cholesterol clogs the pipes of the heart and as the body tries to push the blood through, the heart pumps harder which causes high blood pressure. However, some people have high cholesterol and normal blood pressure and vice versa.

What are some causes of heart problems?

Although genetics play a role in heart problems, many heart problems can be delayed or avoided altogether by living a healthy lifestyle. This means limited alcohol consumption, a diet centered on healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, no smoking, regular physical exercise and adequate sleep.

Additionally, you should try to manage unhealthy stress. This can be done through physical activities such as walking, yoga, swimming, etc. Using stress management techniques like speaking to a therapist or doing mindfulness activities can help. Sometimes, even when a person is living a healthy lifestyle, they may still develop heart disease. This is why it is important to get annual check-ups with a doctor. You may need early medical interventions to treat your heart disease.

What are the signs that someone is having a heart attack?

  • The five most common warning signs according to the American Heart Association are:
  • Pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Lightheadedness, nausea or vomiting
  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Discomfort or pain in the arm or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath

It is important to note that the symptoms between men and women vary, as women are less likely to present or have all of these symptoms at once. While many people think of having a heart attack as what you see on TV, this is not always the case. Some people who have heart attacks are able to return to their normal routine within a couple of weeks after receiving medical attention.

Is it possible to have a heart attack and not know it’s happening?

Some people have what are called silent heart attacks, which remain undiagnosed until a doctor’s visit for another reason. This is why it is always important to call 911 if you feel like you are in cardiac distress.

What is cardiac rehab?

Exercise and physical activity are the ways we strengthen the heart. However, after a heart attack, the heart is weak and cannot endure certain types of stressors. Cardiac rehab is a healthy way to strengthen your heart under the supervision of heart care experts who will guide you through different activities and offer educational information to help you return to your daily life in the most optimal way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says lifestyle changes can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. What are some changes people should consider?

Although rehabilitation is a way to treat and manage heart disease, the best care is prevention. Set-up an appointment with your healthcare provider to get a baseline of your heart health and start a discussion on which health choices and changes will fit into your lifestyle. Small changes can add years to your heart and life.


Contact: Eric Gorton, [email protected], 540-908-1760

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