American Heart Month | Graphic by Dylan Collison | The Wright State Guardian
With the coronavirus pandemic still raging with increased stress levels, it is more important than ever to take care of your heart during American Heart Month.
The month was created in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson as a way to fight heart disease, a leading cause of death in the United States. One American dies every 36 seconds from the condition, according to the official CDC website, and the coronavirus pandemic has made the situation worse.
Coronavirus and heart disease
“People who are infected with COVID, even if they have mild COVID or maybe even asymptomatic COVID, are at risk of developing inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis,” said Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine and Neurology with the Boonshoft School of Medicine Dr. Glen Solomon.
It is unknown how frequent that this risk appears, but some studies have shown it to be around 15%.
“The issue is that it is some reasonably high number of people who get COVID infections, even if they’re not particularly sick with COVID, and get inflammation of the heart muscle,” said Solomon. “That was a reason why college athletics was originally put on hold in the fall, because of the fear that college athletes wouldn’t know that they had this and could actually damage their hearts long-term.”
Other contributing factors
Solomon says individuals who have tested positive for the coronavirus are at risk in an increase of blood clots.
“The blood clots can cause clots in the lungs, which affect the heart,” said Solomon. “They cause clots in the brain, giving strokes in young adults, and cause clots in the heart itself, causing heart attacks.”
The coronavirus itself has led to an increased risk for the disease, but lifestyle changes and stress have been impactful.
“COVID has been a real challenge from the standpoint of heart disease because weight is going up,” said Solomon. “They can’t go to the gym, so exercise is down, eating is up, smoking is up and alcohol use appears to be up.”
One of the ways that people can protect their hearts is by watching what they eat and being mindful of their weight since obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, which contributes to a higher risk of heart disease.
“People need to be careful of their weight and not overeat during social isolation and being at home,” said Solomon. “What you eat is important as well as how much you eat, and people need to be aware to try and reduce the amount of saturated fat that they eat and trans fats that are in commercially-baked products.”
Solomon recommends that people move towards adopting a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables and legumes. He also recommends limiting how much salt we consume.
“Too much salt may lead to an increase in blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease as well,” said Solomon.
Exercising during the winter
Another way to protect the heart is to get plenty of exercise.
“Even if it’s 15 or 20 minutes a day, it helps,” said Solomon. “Anything people do to get moving is useful, and exercise can be things like vacuuming the floor or cleaning the room.”
Medical student Sophia Proschel believes that besides diet and exercise, another method for heart health is taking charge of our mental health.
“I think therapy would benefit everyone, but cost and time can be a barrier to that,” said Proschel. “We know cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective mode of therapy for improving depression, anxiety and stress, and it can actually be done at home with online resources.”
College students who are currently in their 20s are building up plaque in their arteries, which will have lasting consequences once they reach the age of 50 or 60. Solomon believes that it is important to live a healthy life now to avoid those issues in the future.
“When we talk about heart disease and keeping our hearts healthy, we also want to put into perspective that that also means preventing strokes and, to some extent, preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Solomon.