February celebrates American Heart Month and nurses everywhere have tools at their disposal to continue adding to their vast knowledge of heart health throughout the year. Whether you’re a nurse who specializes in cardiac care, one who works in other specialties, or a nurse considering making a career move into the cardiac field, many resources will help you find more information.
Nurses talk about heart health with patients because it has an impact on so many other health conditions and on a patient’s general quality of life. A healthy heart is critical to keeping the body functioning properly, and nurses are especially interested in helping healthy hearts stay that way. That might mean sharing education and resources so healthy patients are motivated to keep their blood pressure and cholesterol in check or in increasing their movement to keep their heart muscles strong. It also might entail assisting and educating patients who have any kind of cardiovascular disease or who have a genetic predisposition to it about lifestyle habits and medications that can help them manage and control their conditions.
How does cardiac care influence your nursing practice? If you’re interested in finding out more information to help your patients or to keep your own cardiovascular health on track, you’ll find resources that benefit your professional and personal life.
Here are a few heart-focused organizations that offer valuable resources.
Nurses who work with patients living with heart failure will find the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses to be a necessary connection. If you work with patients experiencing and managing heart failure, this professional organization will offer the kinds of resources, professional development, and networking that will simultaneously build your knowledge base while connecting you with nurses in the same specialty. Because folks living with heart failure face distinct challenges, AAHFN promotes the best care outcomes while continuing to advance nursing care progress.
The American Heart Association has many groups dedicated to cardiac health and the Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing (CVSN) is for nurses who work in the cardiovascular care field. Nurses who are interested in policies, educational change, industry advocacy, and groundbreaking research will find this organization’s wealth of information of great use. The CSVN offers guidance and resources directed toward many nursing needs–from nurses who want information to help patients improve their cardiac health to those who are looking for a mentor. It also offers clinical symposiums and potential funding resources for nurse scientists who are doing research.
If you work with patients who are impacted by cardiovascular disease, you can look to certification to help you provide the most current cardiac care. The Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (CV-BC™) is for nurses who have an RN and who want to increase their understanding of cardiovascular care. This certification is good for five years and, as with other nursing certifications, signals to the wider community that you have a commitment to your nursing practice and that you are equipped with cutting-edge knowledge of the best practices.
Cardiovascular health impacts patients on all levels–from prevention to disease management. Nurses who specialize in the field have a wide community they can learn from and share knowledge with during American Heart Month or at any time of the year.
Nurses are known for their calm under pressure and the high-quality medical care they provide day in and day out. But they are also well known for another quality–their kind-hearted approach to the patients in their care.
Of course, sometimes the best nurses have to give a little tough love, but even that comes from a place of concern and care. For all their kind-hearted ways, nurses can remember they need to share that kindness with themselves, particularly when they are talking about their own heart health.
With February’s American Heart Month wrapping up, now is a good time to take stock of small changes you can make that can have a big impact on your own heart health. As a nurse, you already know all the big ways to make changes, but it’s a lot easier to focus on small steps for lasting effect.
Because your heart health has a ripple effect throughout your body, keeping your heart in good shape leads to overall health improvements. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about putting yourself, and your own health, front and center.
Look at Your Food Like a Nurse
If one of your patients had your diet, what would you think of it? Would you give it high scores for overall excellence, a mediocre score for “could do better,” or a flat-out failing grade? How would you convey the news that a diet needs an overhaul to a patient? Nurses would tend to offer compassion to their patients because they know how challenging it is to change. That’s how you should approach assessing your own eating habits. If you’re stress-eating chips or chocolate, you’re not going to feel at the top of your game. And if you’re skipping meals because you’re too busy, you won’t have enough energy to manage everything.
Need to make a few changes? You already know what a heart healthy diet looks like, so just set the bar at a low point–make it easy to reach your goals. Bringing a bag of baby carrots to swap for your afternoon crunchy go-to like chips or crackers. Do that once or twice a week. Toss an apple and a couple of cheese sticks in your bag so you can have something healthy when you have a second to spare to eat.
What Do You Tell Patients About Rest and Heart Health?
Nurses aren’t resting enough right now–forget about sleeping enough. But you know how a body can’t recover unless it can rest. The same goes for overworked nurses. Just like your diet, set a low bar–aim for getting a more restful period once or twice a week. Start with 15 minutes of sitting with your eyes closed (a beautiful spot would be ideal, but if it’s in the bathroom with the door locked, so be it). If you can take a 30-minute nap, great; if you can’t, just a few peaceful moments can reduce your blood pressure and help your heart.
How’s Your Network?
A network of supportive folks–not your professional network, although that can help–makes your burden lighter. When you feel you have people who you can talk to, who support you, who listen and don’t judge, then you have some excellent protection for your heart. You may not see them much, but you know they are there and that gives your heart health a real boost. Make small improvements here, too. If there’s no time to see your favorite people, have a group call or Zoom or check in with a group text. Funny videos, supportive sayings, or beautiful photos go a long way toward bringing people on the same page. If you need more connections, check out a local group with a common interest.
If you’re on your feet all day, the thought of a workout can seem like a chore. But if you find something that’s fun and that you like (and if you’re social, find something you can do with others), getting more movement won’t feel like the last thing you want to do. Like before, start with a small goal and see how you do. Walk around the block once on a beautiful evening or do some gentle stretching before you go to bed. Yes, getting your heart rate up is most beneficial by far, but the benefits of gentle movement can’t be overlooked. Smaller movements are relaxing and can help lower blood pressure. Stretching can decrease the stiffness in your arteries and help improve blood flow–all good for your heart.
February celebrates heart health, but it’s not always easy to make all the best choices for your heart. Try any of these five heart health hacks to get started on a good path to better cardiac health.
1. Treat Yourself
Proper diet is essential to a heart-healthy lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean your food can’t feel decadent. Reducing fats, especially saturated and trans fats, is a given, but so is making sure you’re getting enough fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. But a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be boring or bland. Experiment with spices and flavorings to add some variety. And while a banana split or a wedge of triple-chocolate cake isn’t going to do your heart any good, a few chocolate covered strawberries can satisfy your sweet tooth without overloading your heart.
2. Floss Your Teeth
Heart health depends on lots of protective behaviors, not just intense exercise. Daily flossing has long been known to be a protective action you can take to keep your mouth healthy, but does it also protect your heart? In general, periodontal disease may raise the risk of heart disease and may interfere with proper heart valve functions. Because gum disease can trigger inflammation, and inflammation is tied to heart disease, brushing and flossing every day can help you keep problems at bay and may give your heart extra protection. You get a lot of benefits from just a few minutes of effort.
3. Zone Out
Meditation is known to help bring down stress and reduce inflammation-triggering cortisol. But lots of people think of meditation as something that requires time they don’t have. What if you think of meditation as zoning out, but with a focused mental health purpose? When you walk, focus just on the feel of your feet hitting the ground. Listen closely to the noises outside or to the notes in a favorite piece of music. Watch a movie or read a book that engrosses you. Do something you so enjoy that time slips away. Getting into that kind of quiet state helps your heart reap some important benefits of restorative calm.
4. Stretch Your Legs
Something as easy as stretching, and stretching your legs in particular, can help with heart health. Some studies have shown that a regular, easy routine of stretching your legs can help keep arteries more flexible which improves blood flow. When the vascular system is in better shape, your cardiac health is going to benefit. Incorporate a routine of stretching your legs every day.
5. Laugh a Lot
From relieving your stress to increasing blood flow to upping your oxygen levels, laughing is serious business when it comes to your heart health. And while the weight of the pandemic might make laughing less easy to come by, it is worthwhile to seek it out. In this digital era, finding a funny video of silly animals or watching 10 minutes of a favorite comedian is easy enough. You can also check in with your funniest friend or even join a group that laughs on purpose—there are laughter clubs that do just that. Don’t wait for the laughter to just happen—make it happen for your heart health.
Long known as a month filled with valentines and heart-themed decorations, it’s no wonder that February was chosen as the month to highlight heart health.
The February 2021 celebration marks the 57th annual American Heart Month, and spotlights women’s heart health with a “Heart to Heart: Why Losing One Woman Is Too Many” campaign. In a time when one in three women are diagnosed with heart disease annually, this important month is a time when nurses can check their own heart health and strive to be a resource and help provide patients with accurate and timely information about heart disease.
As always, people can take lots of steps to keep their hearts healthy and can, in fact, prevent or mitigate a great number of serious heart disease cases. A healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference in heart health and even moderate steps can have significant impact. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to have a strong heart, and it’s important to talk about small lifestyle changes with patients so they feel like they can make a difference in their own health.
getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, and
getting regular checkups.
And other habits can be just as important for keeping your heart in top shape. Getting enough sleep, keeping socially active with friends and loved ones, and trying to reduce the impact of stress with stress reduction practices (whether that’s a hobby or talking to a professional), all play a part in keeping your heart strong. And everyone should know the symptoms of heart attack or stroke.
Beyond lifestyle changes, do some sleuthing and find out as much as you can about your family’s heart health history. As genetic components can predispose certain families to heart disease, knowing if anyone in your family has had or currently has high blood pressure, a history of heart attacks or strokes, heart valve problems, or heart failure, can help you determine if you’re at a higher risk. It’s especially important to know the ages of these diagnoses as a family history of early heart disease can help guide your own testing and monitoring decisions.
Cardiovascular nurses treat patients with heart disease and often act as a great resource for patients. As they walk patients through their diagnoses and treatment, they are also able to help connect patients and families with other resources including nutritionists, physical therapists, support groups, and other specialists.
February is designated as American Heart Month and lots of recognition days help bring attention to heart health. Nurses who specialize in cardiac care (and who might be celebrating Cardiovascular Professional Week this week) are in especially good roles to help people who are coping with heart disease, and they are also excellent educators to help prevent heart disease in the first place.
A recent survey by the Cleveland Clinic revealed the majority of Americans don’t know heart disease is the number one killer of women. While women might typically fear breast cancer or even the random violence that is so prominent on the nightly news, heart disease actually is the most lethal condition. The survey revealed 68 percent of respondents thought something other than heart disease was the leading cause of death. In fact, heart disease is prevalent for both men and women and actually kills one out of every four Americans.
The Cleveland Clinic study also highlighted a deep lack of understanding about heart disease, its causes, and how it can be prevented. The study showed that while “90 percent of heart disease is due to modifiable/controllable risk factors, only 8 percent of Americans know that.”
Millennials, who need to start practicing heart-healthy habits right now, are especially in the dark, according to the survey. Eighty percent couldn’t identify heart disease as a leading killer of women. The same number or respondents didn’t know people should begin cholesterol checks in their 20s.
Heart disease is often called the silent killer for the symptoms that are easy to dismiss, unrecognizable, or even not present until too much damage has been done. This is why nurses are such essential patient advocates. They can help educate patients, family, friends, and community members about how to prioritize their heart health.
The Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA) is an excellent resource for nurses who want to help patients stay heart healthy. Because so many other conditions contribute to heart disease including diabetes, depression, and inherited genetics, there are many people who might not think of heart disease as an issue. Lifestyle factors also play a significant role as the cause of heart disease and the prevention of it.
Some health conditions are things people have no control over, but what nurses can do is help them understand what steps and modifications will help reduce risk. Someone with diabetes, for example, needs to pay extra attention to managing that condition with proper medications but they can also manage that condition and help prevent heart troubles with extra efforts toward heart health.
One of the best ways to begin educating people is to make sure patients have accurate information about everything from diet to high blood pressure. With correct information they can begin making changes that will work. For instance, the Cleveland Clinic survey showed that many people don’t understand that a Mediterranean diet is the most helpful for heart health or that an aspirin a day will not prevent heart disease. And with the dangers of vaping becoming more defined, and more urgent, people need to know vaping isn’t a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes.
If heart health is especially close to your professional interests, you might want to take your expertise to a higher level with the Cardiac Vascular Nurse Certification. If you work with cardiac patients, this qualification is especially important, but it also helps in a more general practice role. With so many people at risk of heart disease, helping patients with prevention can save lives.