No matter how dedicated to health we may like to think we are, there’s something about summertime that has its way of leading us off of our somewhat straight and narrow paths.
Let’s face it—be it vacations, the suppressive heat, or just over-indulging on sweet treats that keep our blood sugars skyrocketing up, then crashing back down—there are endless distractions throughout the summer months that derail us from our health routines. Our activity levels tend to plummet, and check-ups end up going by the wayside.
With fall only a month away, what better time to reroute into a new routine centered on our overall health and wellbeing. But first thing’s first. Whether or not you are looking to start a new exercise program this fall, step up whatever it is you are currently doing, or are eager to test out an up-and-coming fad diet, or a “get ripped quick” trend, it’s important to remember two key areas of our health that we tend to overlook—our heart and our skin.
Straight to the Heart
Although constantly beating, our heart is not right there visibly glaring at us, holding us accountable, 24/7. As a result, it’s a bit too easy to forget just how important cardiovascular health is to the overall wellbeing and proper functioning of the human body.
Dr. James Williams, board certified cardiologist at Sacred Heart, reminds us that it’s truly unforgettable, or at least should be. Williams has practiced cardiology for over 30 years and seen firsthand a variety of heart issues, including the silent killer—heart disease.
“Heart Disease is the Number 1 killer for adult men and women, particularly after age 50 across the board,” he said.
Accordingly to Williams, even those individuals less than 40 should be highly concerned with lifestyle choices, on top of genetic predispositions, since these come into play as risk factors, or preventers to a variety of heart issues, most notably, coronary heart disease. These lifestyle choices include things such as keeping your weight, diet and blood pressure in check.
“If you do those things right and if you pick your parents right you won’t have a problem,” he said.
Of course then there are other outside factors, like stress.
Williams explains that typically the effects of stress on your heart are in relation to how you are actually dealing with the outside stresses you’ve been dealt. For example, if your coping mechanisms happen to be things such as smoking or excessive drinking, those can take a direct toll on your heart health.
“It has to do with how people react to stress—excessive drinking and smoking—not so good,” he said. “It’s tricky. I think stress is a negative factor, but I don’t think it’s a major issue unless it raises your blood pressure or makes you smoke.”
And although environmental factors are not directly linked to heart disease, there is something to be said for the “stress of the seasons.”
“Everyone across the country in spite of where they are sees an increase of heart issues in the summer. This stress can be a precipitating factor, but that’s a little different than a cause,” Williams said.
If we are talking about someone who doesn’t have heart disease and wants to keep it that way, in addition to not using tobacco products and monitoring your weight to avoid putting you at risk for development of Type 2 Diabetes, Williams instructs the following:
“Know your blood pressure and make sure it’s controlled.”
“Know your cholesterol and make sure it’s acceptable.”
“Get regular exercise.”
“Don’t be foolish in what you eat.”
Like most things, when it comes to preventative treatments for heart disease, there is a catch.
“I think there is some degree of controversy of the appropriate preventative treatment,” said Williams. “Everyone needs to have their blood pressure and cholesterol checked through their family doctor. The problem that comes up is how aggressive to be in the treatment.”
What about the active, and otherwise healthy people who tend to think, “I am active and healthy so I don’t need to check on my heart—right?”
Although people tend to think of heart attacks when heart disease is mentioned, there are a variety of other issues that often go overlooked that can affect individuals of all ages.
“When most people talk about heart disease in adults they think of coronary heart disease—that causes heart attacks. But it is a misconception because heart diseases can include rhythm disturbances, and other aspects of heart function as well,” said Williams.
Before beginning a new routine, or restarting an existing, it’s best to get some routine checkups. While blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol issues can all increase the risk of coronary heart disease if left untreated, they are vital to all areas of health and day-to-day functioning and can and should be checked regularly.
For the remainder of August, Sacred Heart Health System is currently providing free heart-health screenings throughout the area. These Heart-health screenings measure blood pressure, blood sugar and total cholesterol and can detect anemia. They are helpful in diagnosing conditions that put people at high risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other health problems.
Upcoming Dates & Locations
•Aug. 24 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Kingdom Life Worship Center, 1508 W. LaRua St., Pensacola. Non-fasting heart-health screening.
•Aug. 27 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Orange Beach Senior Center, 26251 Canal Road, Orange Beach, Ala. Non-fasting heart-health screening.
•Aug. 28 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Moorings Apartments, 8491 Old Spanish Trail Road, Pensacola. Heart-health screening.
For more information about this enrollment, please call 416-6040.
Calculating the Score
When we talk about screening tests for heart disease—the appropriate use of tests is limited and controversial. Most of these tests are imperfect and are not cheap.
“People need to remember that by the time you get heart disease, it’s a much bigger problem,” said Williams.
While there is an actual “stress test,” that can be performed, it is a bit trickier to use as a diagnostic tool and can also be a bit controversial.
“For a patient who has significant risk factors who wants to start an exercise program—we would do a stress test. It’s a screening in anticipation of a particular outcome,” said Williams.
The Coronary Calcium Score is one test Williams considers valuable in recognizing heart disease. And in some areas of the country, such as where Williams practiced in Austin, Texas, this test is covered by insurance companies. Although not covered in Florida yet, Williams encourages that at $100 bucks, it’s a pretty good deal.
“It’s an x-ray test that allows identification, localization and quantification of calcium deposits inside arteries in the heart,” he explained.
Not only does the test take all of your risk factors into account, and roll them into one “score,” it allows you to see what “damage,” in essence, is currently being done so you know the appropriate treatment.
“Here’s the catch,” he said. “Because of genetics, which can trump the other risk factors, it’s not enough to add up the risk factors and say ‘You should be worried’ or ‘Shouldn’t be worried.’ A large percentage of otherwise healthy individuals can be reclassified as being high or low risk, after they have the test.”
This test also helps answer questions when doctors are deciding whether or not to use medicine as treatment. Williams affirms that there are great medications for cholesterol out there but diet and exercise should be used first.
Ultimately, “A stitch in time saves nine,” said Dr. Williams, meaning timely, proactive efforts will prevent more work and potential struggle later.
Dr. James Williams
Sacred Heart Hospital Medical Office Building
5153 N. 9th Avenue, Suite 404
8:00 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday
Get Some Skin in Your Game
The truth is, if we were outside at all this summer in the heat of the Florida sun, chances are we left ourselves largely overexposed and under-protected.
As the end of summer nears, whether or not you feel dried up, or burnt out, it’s a good time to evaluate your skin. Not only is it important to take notice of any visible damage that has been done to your skin to decide what treatment options are available or necessary, but ultimately it serves as a good reminder to be proactive when it comes to your skin health. Skin health is certainly not only skin deep, after all.
While Dr. Kevin Welch, local cosmetic dermatologist, confirms that “daily use of sunscreen is the single most important thing a person can do for skin health,” he provided us with some valuable insights—things that we all need to add to our skincare routines.
Check it Out
Along with advising that a yearly skin check up with a health care professional is a good idea, Dr. Welch encourages that even more important, are frequent self-exams.
“In terms of screenings, probably the single most important thing is performing a self-exam,” said Dr. Welch. “Just as women are encouraged to do monthly breast self-exams, everyone should try to regularly look at their skin for the appearance of new or changing moles, or spots that will not heal.”
Individuals that do see changes of concern should certainly seek a health care professional to assess any health threats or risk that could potentially exist and decipher next steps.
According to Dr. Welch, in terms of skin changes to look for, the most common are going to be brown spots, lentigos, and darkening, hyper-pigmentation, of the skin.
“These are seen most commonly in chronically exposed areas such as the face, chest and arms,” he said. “Sun can also cause a worsening of melasma, the patchy skin darkening that is seen mostly on the face of women, often in conjunction with hormone exposure. This can be especially prominent in skin of color.”
A Little Oily
When we see our skin drying out we tend to think that drinking a ton of water is the answer. While water is the key to keeping our bodies hydrated, what we may not realize is that what our skin is crying out for to keep it supple and hydrated is actually oil.
“Skin dehydration is often not a loss or absence of water, but rather of oil,” Dr. Welch explained. “Water does not keep skin moist, oil does. When skin dries out, it is a lack of oil that is the key factor. Moisturizers provide oil, not water, to the skin.”
Treat Yo’ Self
Skin rejuvenation is a huge topic amongst those seeking rejuvenation, as well as professionals.
“Right now creams containing growth factors are on the rise as well as bleaching creams that reduce hyper-pigmentation,” said Dr. Welch.
For those seeking additional treatment options, he recommends the addition of Retin A (tretinoin) as a simple and popular tactic with real benefits. Other services that Dr. Welch performs such as Botox and fillers like Juvederm can effectively address wrinkles and loss of facial volume.
“Intense pulsed light (IPL), a mild laser treatment, can dramatically reduce brown spots, and also redness such as seen with rosacea. Fractional CO2 laser resurfacing can smooth out skin texture, such as the lines that develop around the eyes and upper lip,” he said.
Rest & DeStress
Although stress isn’t as glaringly obvious to others on the outside, it certainly is obvious to us when it takes over our bodies on the inside, and can certainly have physical repercussions.
“A person who is undergoing physical or emotional stress can develop dry, dull skin. Additional lines may form on the face. A loss of weight may cause the face to look older. Under eye circles may become more prominent,” Welch explained.
“Of course the best treatment is to eliminate the stress, but good luck with that.”
Personally, for the IN staff, we can all get behind the idea, and at least recommend a Spa Day to start with. After we perform a DIY check-up, and oil up, of course.
Dr. Kevin Welch
Medical Center Clinic; Welch Skin Care Center
8333 N. Davis Highway