Kim Robins, bluegrass singer, songwriter, and bandleader, has agreed to contribute an occasional column about staying healthy for touring artists. As a nurse, and a traveling musician, Kim has a keen awareness of the pitfalls of the lifestyle. Here is her first entry, about heart healthy lifestyle choices. As a nurse for over 25 years, I’ve dealt with my share of heartbreak over the loss of a patient or loved one. I wouldn’t say I’m not affected by death, but I have come to accept it as a part of life. What bothers me most is looking at pictures on the wall in a patient’s room of when they were young and vibrant and realizing life is just way too short. The music industry has had its share of losses the past couple of years. Most recently, the death of Daryle Singletary has hit me hard. Perhaps it’s because he was so young and had a beautiful family or perhaps it’s because his music has been an integral part of my life for years. How many times as one said, “I’m just having too much fun” only to think of that classic Daryle Singletary song? Although the official cause of death hasn’t been released, it is rumored Daryle suffered a possible blot clot that led to a heart attack. That got me to thinking about how I could use my nursing experience to help educate the bluegrass community just as I have educated my patients over the years. It’s no secret that many bluegrass musicians eat poorly. Quite often my band and I have left a show starving after just playing only to stop and grab fast food. I’m sure not many people are working out or running laps at a bluegrass festival and many musicians are smokers or have that occasional alcoholic drink. I have struggled with weight for the last few years and have done my best to modify my diet. I work out with a trainer and try to eat a vegetarian diet, but no one loves a good cheeseburger more than me, so I am not perfect by any means. I do want to be around to watch my granddaughter grow up and to make more music with my band, however. Not all heart disease is preventable. Many people suffer from hereditary conditions or in the case of my father, from an unavoidable condition or virus that was acquired early in life. Age and gender (men have a greater risk of heart attack than women) can also be a risk factor. For the majority though, heart disease is a product of our environment and how we live our life. According to the American Heart Association Website (www.heart.org), below are Major risk factors that can be modified, treated or controlled. Tobacco smoke Smokers’ risk of developing coronary heart disease is much higher than that of nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking is a powerful independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart disease. Cigarette smoking also acts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for coronary heart disease. Exposure to other people’s smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers. High blood cholesterol/Triglycerides/High Blood Pressure Know your numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. If any of these numbers are high, it raises your chance of heart disease. Physical inactivity Stay physically active. For the maximum benefit, do 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week. Obesity and overweight People who have excess body fat — especially if a lot of it is at the waist — are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Overweight and obese adults with risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugar can make lifestyle changes to lose weight. Diabetes mellitus Diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well controlled. At least 68% of people >65 years of age with diabetes die of some form of heart disease and 16% die of stroke. If you have diabetes, it’s extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage it and control any other risk factors you can. Persons with diabetes who are obese or overweight should make lifestyle changes (e.g., eat better, get regular physical activity, lose weight) to help manage blood sugar. Preventing Heart Attacks A heart attack can occur at any age. You’re never too young to start heart-healthy living. If you are over 40, or if you have multiple risk factors, work especially closely with your doctor to address your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Heart attack prevention should begin early in life. Start with an assessment of your risk factors and a plan you can follow to keep your heart attack risk low. Prevention is critical because many first-ever heart attacks are fatal or disabling. If you smoke, stop. The American Heart Association has tools to help you quit. Work with your physician to manage your risk factors. These might include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. An active lifestyle and good nutrition have also been shown to be helpful in preventing a heart attack. See more lifestyle tips for heart attack prevention. Conclusion Remember that you have family, friends and an entire bluegrass community that wants you to be the healthiest you can possibly be, so please, take care of yourselves and live the life you were meant to lead.