7 Simple Steps to Combat Heart Failure

JANUARY 18, 2016
Meghan Ross, Senior Associate Editor
Pharmacists may want to steer their patients toward a resource for their cardiovascular health: the Life’s Simple 7 test from the American Heart Association (AHA).
 
This My Life Check heart health test provides a heart score (ideally 100) and steps to improve patients’ health. The calculator also allows patients to track their progress either on their smartphone or computer.
 
The assessment covers 3 main areas: activities, diet, and vitals. In these sections, patients are asked about their gender; age; weight; smoking status; and history of heart attack or heart failure, stroke, vascular disease, congenital heart defects, and coronary heart disease or chest pain.
 
Patients also fill out their salt intake, how much time they spend each week on moderate or strenuous exercise, and how many servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish they eat on a regular basis. Lastly, patients will need to know their blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in order to get their comprehensive heart health score.
 
For those who need to boost their heart health score, the AHA recommends starting with one or 2 steps.
 
“These measures have one unique thing in common: any person can make these changes, the steps are not expensive to take, and even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference,” the AHA stated.
 
The 7 steps to leading a more heart-healthy life, plus some tips on how pharmacists can help, are as follows:
 
1.     Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure
The AHA noted that more than 20% of patients don’t know that they have high blood pressure, so hypertension screening is encouraged.
 
A local pharmacy could be a good place to start to improve hypertension. One pilot program showed that pharmacy-based kiosks helped patients get control of their blood pressure.
 
Some of the ways to control blood pressure include managing stress, reducing salt intake, adhering to hypertensive agents, and limiting alcoholic beverages. Since high blood pressure is a chronic condition, patients should incorporate their treatment program into their daily routine.
 
2.     Monitor Cholesterol Levels
Around 25% to 35% of total daily calories should derive from fats from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils for healthy adults. Meanwhile, saturated fat intake should be no more than 5% to 6% of total daily calories, if patients want to lower their cholesterol.
 
Research has shown that patients who experience a stroke and have monthly visits from a pharmacist see great improvements in their cholesterol levels. Pharmacists should also make sure that patients understand the difference between low-density and high-density lipoprotein.
 
3.     Lower Blood Sugar
Some ways to prevent diabetes include eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and dealing with stress in a healthy way. Patients should also be in regular contact with their health care providers to keep track of their treatment plan and manage their diabetes.
If patients develop diabetes, they may want to consider seeing providers with various specialties to make sure their vision, feet and legs, and heart stay healthy. Time and time again, pharmacists have been shown to help improve outcomes for patients with diabetes.
 
4.     Exercise Regularly
The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise like walking per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running per week. Exercising 30 minutes a day could work for some patients, while others may find it easier to split their exercise into 2 or 3 sessions of 10 to 15 minutes per day.
 
Around 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week is ideal for patients on a mission to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol.
 
Since pharmacists are excellent educators, they can help highlight the important role exercise plays in patients’ lives. One way to reinforce this is to discuss the personal benefits of regular physical activity for the individual.
 
5.     Maintain a Healthy Diet
Patients should focus on fiber when eating whole grains and make sure to include fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and fruits in their daily diet.
 
Patients should also avoid eating poultry with its skin, and they should choose lean cuts of meat.
They should eat fish at least 2 times per week in order to obtain omega-3 fatty acids.
 
For patients who drink, alcohol intake should be just 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men. Patients should also limit their sodium intake to less than 2400 mg per day in order to lower blood pressure.
 
To complement a healthy diet, pharmacists can recommend nutritional supplements, as well.
 
6.     Manage Weight
To lose around 1 lb per week, patients should aim to cut out 500 calories from their diet per day. Keeping a food diary may help hold patients accountable for their calorie intake.
 
Since many patients see their pharmacist more often than their physician, pharmacists may be a good resource for providing weight-loss counseling.
 
7.     Quit Smoking
According to the AHA, cravings for cigarettes usually last around a minute, so patients should try to stick it out for 60 seconds so the urge passes.
 
Identifying triggers can make smokers more aware of situations they want to avoid. Reaching for gum, a healthy snack, or an interesting project can also distract smokers from their cravings.
 
Pharmacists can guide patients on smoking cessation therapies. 

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