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Q&A: American Heart Month with Dr. Jackie Iseler


In honor of February being American Heart Month, we sat down with Assistant Professor Jackie Iseler, DNP, RN, ACNS-BC, CNE. Iseler oversees the clinical nurse specialist (CNS) program in the Michigan State University College of Nursing and has years of experience in cardiovascular health, including having worked as a cardiovascular CNS and having helped build the heart and lung transplant, and ventricular assist device programs at Spectrum Health.


Q: What is something people can do every day to protect their heart?

A: They sound really easy, but some of them can be quite difficult to do:

1. Add more fruits and vegetables to our meals. Do this every day.

2. Add whole grains to your diet — that helps to lower your cholesterol levels.

3. Get up and move. The American heart association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic exercise weekly, or you can do 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise.

4. Have good oral hygiene. You wouldn’t think that your mouth is connected to your heart health, but it actually is so it’s really important to keep going to your regular dentist appointments.

5. Drink in moderation (or not at all). Excessive amounts of alcohol can increase your heart rate, your blood pressure, and that’s just a lot of work on your heart.

6. Know your numbers. Know what your normal blood pressure is, and your normal cholesterol levels. That way you can work on controlling them if they’re high. The things that I mentioned earlier, such as eating fruits and vegetables, getting up and walking, adding whole grains to your diet will help with that.

7. Manage your stress levels. Stress does contribute to heart disease, and while there is good stress and bad stress, it’s the bad stress you want to have control over.


Q: How often should people have their hearts examined?

A: In general, everyone should be seeing their healthcare providers yearly, and during these annual visits, that’s when you should have your blood pressure checked, your heart rate, your heart sounds, and get lab work done. That should give you and your provider a good indication on where you are with your health. If your heart rate and blood pressure are not within the recommended guidelines, they can do a further investigation on that.

Now, if you are shown to have high blood pressure, or your lab results are a little bit high, you can coordinate additional appointments with your healthcare provider and discuss next steps, which will probably first focus on changes to diet and exercise before moving on to medication.


Q: Are people doing a better or worse job staying heart healthy during the pandemic? Why is that?

A: This global pandemic has completely disrupted our lives, and has caused a considerable amount of stress. As I mentioned earlier, you need to manage your stress to maintain your heart health. Increase in anxiety and stress affect the body by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure, reducing blood flow to the heart, and increasing the level of cortisone, also known as the “stress hormone.”

The heart and mind are connected, and I think people forget that. Your stress affects your body. As I’m sure most of us, if not all of us, have been doing a lot of stress eating and haven’t been as physically fit or active which has been leading to the “Quarantine 15” or “COVID 19” weight gain. However, possibly due to New Year’s Resolutions or people adapting to the restrictions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the sales of fitness equipment for the home has increased significantly in the last few months. This pandemic has also brought much needed attention to substance use disorders and mental health issues. They have always been around, but this pandemic has just exacerbated them even more. There are a number of resources now available to people to get much needed help.


Q: Are people avoiding getting their heart conditions checked during the pandemic, and is that a good idea?

A: It’s definitely not a good idea to skip your visits, especially if you have a heart condition. You should still go see your healthcare provider. The offices where you usually do get your check-ups — it’s usually an outpatient clinic — they have protocols in place so it is relatively safe for you to go and see someone. Obviously, wear a mask and if going into the doctor's office is something you’re really concerned with, you can use different services such as telehealth where you can talk to them through your computer or your phone virtually.


Q: What are ways people can monitor their cardiovascular health from home?

A: There are a few simple numbers you can monitor:

1. Heart rate. You can check your pulse just by using a stopwatch and counting your pulses for a whole minute and that’ll give you a pulse rate. Normally, and this differs a little different for everyone, you should aim for 60-90 beats per minute.

2. Blood pressure. You can get an automatic blood pressure machine at your local grocery store, pharmacy, or even online. You want to make sure it’s calibrated, but that’s something to ask your pharmacists. But with that, you can check your blood pressure however often you feel is necessary for you.

3. Weight. Do it at least once a week, but make sure you’re doing it at the same time because your weight does fluctuate 2-5 pounds each day. 

4. Cholesterol. You want to know because there is healthy cholesterol and there is lethal cholesterol. There are simple things you can do to increase the healthy cholesterol such as eating right and exercising.