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Time to get to the heart of the matter

February 2013 has quickly arrived. This is the month when we start to see all of the Valentine posters and heart-felt commercials on television. We purchase our loved ones cards, chocolates and the occasional cheesy stuffed animal. It is during the month of February we also get a reminder of the importance of a healthy heart.

The American Heart Association has designated February as Heart Month. Considering the centralized heart theme for the month this does seem quite fitting. So, how does one become more familiar with their needs when it comes to a healthy heart? Begin with an in-depth discussion with your physician or health care provider. This could include previous test results (fasting lipid profile, cardiac stress-test, EKG, echocardiogram, etc.) and their comparison to this year's results.

Next, what needs to be improved? It can be easy to get caught up with all the numbers on your lipid profile as well as all the other tests. Have your physician explain what all those numbers mean to you. After the initial discussion what will be the plan of action to get you more heart healthy?

Medications have provided much advancement in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. However, this is only one approach to becoming heart healthy. Becoming heart healthy and maintaining such good health requires a multifaceted approach. A plan that envelopes a balanced diet, exercise, good-quality sleep, and making sure to take medications as prescribed.

With initial consideration, a balanced diet appears self-explanatory and quite easy to achieve. However, conforming to such a diet on a consistent basis can be one of the most difficult -- yet critical -- steps in becoming heart healthy. We are a fast-food culture. For many of us, a 15- or 20-minute lunch is commonplace. Furthermore, there are so many fad-diets that insist they are the one to beat all others.

So, what is a person to do with this information overload regarding appropriate diet? Keep it simple.

Along with your doctor's input, avoid high-fat, fried foods, and being mindful of any concentrated sugars (cake, ice-cream, candy, etc.) Additional assistance can come from a dietitian. A dietitian might go over your current diet, make helpful suggestions on potential changes and provide a roadmap for heart-healthy success.

Initially, beginning an exercise program might seem quite intimidating, but it really doesn't have to be. A good place to start would be discussing your plans with your physician. Your physician can provide insight into your current health and any exercise restrictions that should be addressed before you begin. There might be one or more medications you are taking that could affect your exercise tolerance. You should find out if you are on such medications. If you happen to be on one or more of these medicines, it certainly doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise. But, the exercise might be tailored specifically for you. A productive exercise regimen shouldn't be painful. Never mind the old cliche, "No pain, No gain."

Requesting the assistance of an exercise trainer can provide additional insight to achieve a successful exercise plan. A consistent regimen of exercise provides many advantages. These advantages include improved exercise tolerance, better body weight and increased overall strength.

For a successful heart-healthy program, good sleep is crucial. Quality sleep will improve cognitive function as well as provide improved energy levels. One of the most common sleep disorders is obstructive sleep apnea. People with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea have a sleeping pattern that is not conducive to healthy sleep. Along with snoring, people have a tendency to be very tired throughout the day and frequently wake up in the mornings with headache. If this sounds familiar, voice your concerns to your doctor, who might request a sleep study.

Many people require medications for diabetes, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol and other diseases. All medications, as well as over-the-counter medications, should be reviewed with your physician or health care provider. As you travel your path to a healthier heart, it is possible these medications could be changed or the amount of medications decreased. Keep an open line of communication with your physician regarding possible medicine changes.

Getting more heart healthy is a great idea. At first, it might seem somewhat overwhelming to begin the process. However, beginning or improving a healthy diet, dependable exercise program, and ensuring yourself high-quality sleep will certainly get you on your way. Having a periodic medication review during your time with your physician or health care provider is an excellent idea.

As you thumb through the Valentine cards and begin to notice more Valentine-themed commercials, remember February is Heart Month.

Be good to your heart, and consider these lifestyle suggestions. To the reader, I wish you Happy Valentine's Day and continued good health.

As with all medical conditions, always feel free to contact your physician or health care provider with any questions or concerns.

Dr. Charles Weintz, formerly of Hays, is the author of "Healthy Headlines." He is a family physician at Stanton County Family Practice.