The leading cause of death for both men and women in the US is heart disease, with 1 in 4 deaths being attributed to it. February is recognized by many organizations as American Heart Month. While there are things that can affect your heart that are out of your control (such as genetics, race, sex), luckily there are many things that can be easily altered in an individual’s lifestyle that can help improve your heart health.
Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are at an increased risk of developing secondary health issues and engaging in risky behaviors that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. However, many of these secondary issues can be modified, and in exchange lead to a healthier heart. We found what we believe are six of the top factors that affect individuals with IDD (and those without IDD) that can be altered/maintained in their lifestyle to help keep their heart healthy.
- Eat healthy and be physically active
Healthy eating leads to increased energy, weight loss, and lower cholesterol levels. If possible, try to stay away from frozen/processed meals, which can be high in trans-fat, and eat fresh foods. Some other healthy eating tips are:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t completely cut yourself off from treats! Once-a-week type special treats or sweets help to reduce cravings and binge eating, but should not be eaten every day.
- On Sundays, plan your meals for the entire week, so you know what you’ll be eating each day.
- Cookbooks such as Cooking By Color, can help individuals with IDD learn about how to prepare simple, healthy meals at home.
CDC Vital Signs put out a report in May 2014 stating that nearly half of all individuals with disabilities get no physical activity. Recommended strategies to be more physically active are:
- Get 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. This can include joining a walking club, dancing, online workout videos, or attending a yoga/fitness class at your local Chapter of The Arc or fitness center.
- If 30 minutes is too long to exercise all at once, split it up and do three 10 minute segments throughout the day. Individuals will reap the same health benefits as doing it all at once.
- Maintain a healthy weight
Thirty six percent of individuals with disabilities are considered obese as compared to 23% of individuals without disabilities. Regular physical exercise and healthy eating will help individuals to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes, which is another risk factor that contributes to heart disease.
- Quit smoking
According to the CDC the rate of individuals with disabilities that smoke is notably higher than of those who do not have a disability. The chemicals and plaque from tobacco build up on the inside of the arteries, causing the passageway to narrow. This puts a lot of extra stress on the heart muscle to work harder than usual to make sure blood is circulating through the body.
Some resources to help individuals with IDD quit smoking include…
- The Michigan Dept of Community Health – Improve Health By Reducing Tobacco Use
- Everyone Has the Right to be Healthy – How to Quit Smoking Brochure
- Monash University – I Can Quit Facilitators Guide
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure level
Individuals with IDD are 13% more likely to have high blood pressure/hypertension than those without disabilities. One cause of this could again stem back to lack of physical activity and poor eating habits. Normal blood pressure is 120/80. Other ways to help reduce blood pressure to safe levels are:
- Reduce sodium – replace salt with spice to flavor foods
- Don’t smoke
- Limit stress levels
- Reduce alcohol consumption or drink in moderation
- In extreme cases medication may be required
- Don’t drink alcohol or drink in moderation
Moderation for men is 1-2 drinks per day and 1-per day for women. Excessive alcohol use over time can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, contribute to cardiomyopathy and stroke, or lead to heart failure.
- Manage stress
Stress levels for some individuals with IDD can be elevated daily due to frustration caused by communication barriers with peers/physicians/staff, or lack of ability to fully grasp certain concepts in school/work/social environments. In stressful situations, individuals might also choose to respond in non-healthy ways, such as overeating, smoking, or drinking alcohol as ways to cope. Enforcing good daily habits to deal with stress, such as exercising, meditating, or talking with friends/family, will help individuals with IDD manage stress in a healthy manner.
Making a few of these changes could have a huge impact on your heart and the way your body works. Learn more about how these 5 categories and how to improve your health by utilizing the resources from The Arc’s HealthMeet project.