HEART SMART: February month of awareness for cardiac health, disease

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

COVINGTON -- Virginia and Charles Eubank know plenty about heart trouble. She has had a heart attack; he has had four, and two open heart surgeries to boot.

Their hearts are strong now, but they have to work hard to keep them that way. Charles Eubank was just 42 when he had his first heart attack, the same age his father was when a heart attack killed him. Heart disease runs in his family. Another relative died at 48.

Unlike her husband, Virginia Eubank apparently had no genetic predisposition or physical abnormality when she had a heart attack seven years ago. Doctors said it was completely stress-related. At the time, her husband was in the hospital with his own heart trouble and she was dealing with several deaths in the family.

The Conyers couple is still going strong, however, thanks to regular exercise sessions at Newton Medical Center's Fitness Forum. The key to their recovery, they say, is plenty of exercise and a nutritious diet. They work out for an hour and a half three times a week at Fitness Forum, located in the Physician's Pavilion at the hospital, rotating between the various exercise machines.

"I don't want to check out," Charles Eubank said of what keeps him going.

February is American Heart Month, so labeled by the American Heart Association in an effort to raise awareness of heart disease, particularly among women. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women age 20 and over, killing about one woman every minute, though research shows that just a few years ago many dismissed it as "an older man's disease."

To combat this lack of awareness, the American Heart Association launched the Go Red for Women campaign to support awareness, research, education and community programs to benefit women. The campaign encourages women to follow an exercise routine, eat a healthy diet, visit a doctor for important tests and influence others by talking about heart health.

Last year, the American Heart Association set a strategic goal of reducing death and disability from cardiovascular disease and strokes by 20 percent while improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent by the year 2020.

The way to do that is just what the Eubanks recommend: exercise and a healthy diet, said Haley Flynn, an exercise specialist at Fitness Forum. It's also the best way to recover.

"Take baby steps -- eventually you can get back to where you were," she said of the post-heart attack fitness routine.

Also, Charles Eubank recommends not sweating the small stuff, if at all possible.

"Avoid stress. Whatever situation you're in, try to stay calm. Before you get stressed out, say to yourself, 'It's not worth me having a heart attack, or death.' Work through whatever situation you're in," he said.

For more information on heart health, and to calculate your risk of having a heart attack, visit www.americanheart.org.