For some farmers, completion of daily chores and the rigors of planting or harvest season take higher priority than their own health. Unfortunately, these farm activities can come to an abrupt stop because of a heart attack and one's health becomes the priority. The good news is heart disease is preventable.
The American Heart Association describes a coronary attack (heart attack) as an occurrence that happens when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked. This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart with blood slowly become thicker and harder from a buildup of plaque that consists of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. A heart attack occurs when the plaque breaks open and a blood clot forms to block the blood flow; damage increases the longer an artery stays blocked. Damaged heart muscles supplied by that artery begins to die, resulting in permanent heart damage. For most people, living by a few basic principles can prevent a heart attack.
Regular Health Screenings
High blood pressure and high cholesterol damage the heart and blood vessels. Therefore, people need to be tested for these conditions on a regular basis. Regular screening can determine if action needs to be taken. Ask the doctor which vitamins should be taken and if an aspirin regimen would be appropriate. Some vitamins may lower the risk of a heart attack.
Smoking is a major cause of coronary artery disease. About 20% of all deaths from heart disease in the United States are directly related to cigarette smoking. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals. Many of these can damage the heart and blood vessels, making them more vulnerable to narrowing of the arteries, called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
Nicotine in cigarette smoke makes the heart work harder by narrowing the blood vessels and increasing the user's heart rate and blood pressure. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in the blood supply, increasing blood pressure by forcing the heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen. When a person quits smoking, the risk of heart disease is reduced by 50% within just one year. And no matter how long or how much a person smoked, he/she will immediately begin seeing benefits of quitting.
Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase the chances of heart disease like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. At your annual check-up ask your doctor to calculate your body mass index (BMI) to determine whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. Even small reductions in weight can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 10% can decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level, and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Many farmers feel they receive plenty of exercise—which may be true. For most people, everyday exercise is not the same as meaningful exercise. Meaningful exercise is very important in reducing your body weight and is defined as exercise that elevates your heart rate for 20 minutes or more like biking and swimming. Physical activity helps control weight and can reduce the chances of developing other conditions and can reduce stress that puts a strain on your heart.
The suggested guideline for reducing heart disease is to do moderately intense exercising for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. However, even shorter amounts of exercise offer heart benefits, so if the suggested amount is not feasible, do what is. Breaking a workout into 10-minute sessions will have the same benefits.
Another important factor in reducing body weight is a healthy diet. A healthy diet with the correct foods can reduce heart disease by providing your body with the nutrition it needs to function properly. For people at risk for heart disease, a dietary change may be suggested by your doctor. One example of a dietary change would be the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) meal plan that is rich in antioxidant-containing foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, because they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The DASH plan includes:
- Low amounts of fat, cholesterol, and salt.
- High amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, legumes, low-fat sources of protein, and certain types of fish.
- No trans fat. Sources of trans fat can be found in some deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snack foods, margarines, and crackers. To avoid trans fat, look at the label for the term "partially hydrogenated."
- High amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, the "good fat" that is in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and fish.
- Alcohol only in moderation—no more than two drinks a day for men, one a day for women. At that moderate level, alcohol can have a protective effect on your heart.
- Vitamin C—Citrus fruits and their juices, berries, dark green vegetables (spinach, asparagus, green peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, watercress, other greens), red and yellow peppers, tomatoes and tomato juice, pineapple, cantaloupe, mangos, papaya, and guava.
- Vitamin E—Vegetable oils such as olive, soybean, corn, cottonseed and safflower, nuts and nut butters, seeds, whole grains, wheat, wheat germ, brown rice, oatmeal, soybeans, sweet potatoes, legumes (beans, lentils, split peas), and dark leafy green vegetables.
- Selenium—Brazil nuts, brewer's yeast, oatmeal, brown rice, chicken, eggs, dairy products, garlic, molasses, onions, salmon, seafood, tuna, wheat germ, whole grains, and most vegetables.
- Beta Carotene—Variety of dark orange, red, yellow, and green vegetables and fruits such as broccoli, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, red and yellow peppers, apricots, cantaloupe, and mangos.
This fact sheet was reviewed by Karen Mancl, PhD, Professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University; and Pat Luchkowsky, Director of Public Affairs, Easter Seals of Ohio.
American Heart Association. (2022). What is a Heart attack?
Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute. (n.d.). Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Health & Prevention. Cleveland Clinic.
Mayo Clinic. (2022). Strategies to prevent heart disease. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
About AgrAbility Based Fact Sheets
These fact sheets were developed to promote success in agriculture for Ohio's farmers and farm families coping with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility offers information and referral materials such as this fact sheet, along with on-site assessment, technical assistance, and awareness in preventing secondary injuries. Fact sheets were developed with funding from NIFA, project number OHON0006.