ELKINS – A panel of medical experts led a discussion on the importance of living a heart-healthy lifestyle at the Davis Medical Center’s cafeteria overflow Thursday evening as part of the Center’s efforts to promote community wellness.

The free forum was an opportunity for Davis Health officials to engage and educate the community about living a heart-friendly lifestyle as part of the Center’s Healthy Heart Month

The panel of experts included Chalak O. Berzingi, M.D., Megan Session, R.N., Melissa Kisner, R.N., Amanda Smith, R.Ph., Sonya Phares, R.D. and Jim Severino, R.D., L.D., C.D.E.

Berzingi, a board-certified cardiologist with the WVU Heart Institute, talked about how heart disease is diagnosed, as well as providing warning signs and risk factors that could lead to a heart-disease diagnosis. He explained how factors that the individual can not control – such as a person’s sex and whether or not he or she has a family history of heart disease – can be as much a factor in someone contracting heart disease as diet, weight, exercise and other factors that the individual can control.

According to the American Heart Association’s official website, heart disease “includes numerous problems, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis” which is “a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries.”

When the arteries are narrow it can be harder for blood to flow through them and could potentially cause a heart attack or stroke.

Severino, a registered dietician, talked about how factors like a lack of exercise or a poor diet create a higher risk for heart disease.

“To be heart-healthy, you really want to eat a heart-healthy diet,” Severino said. “That includes reducing your sodium intake, watching your serving sizes, finding and maintaining your healthy weight and learning to read food labels.

“Also a little bit of weight loss is good, but you don’t have to overdo it. Just losing five pounds has an effect in lowering your blood pressure and blood sugar.”

Phares, also a registered dietician, explained the difference between saturated fats – which come from animal foods like meat and dairy – and trans fats that are not heart-healthy, and polyunsaturated fats – like fish oil – and monounsaturated fats – like olive oil and peanut oil – that are better for a heart-healthy lifestyle.

She also explained the importance of reducing the amount of salt or sodium we consume everyday to healthy levels.

“Experts recommend that we consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day,” Phares said. “Most people in the U.S. consume between 3,500 and 4,000 milligrams per day, and many of our favorite foods like pizza and sandwiches contain high levels of sodium.”

Phares also stressed the importance of eating functional foods that have a potentially positive effect on health, such as soluble fiber, plant stanols and sterols, an Omega-3 fats.

Amanda Smith, a registered pharmacist at Home Center Pharmacy, gave those in attendance a crash-course in basic pharmacy information, including what a deductible – the amount of money an insured person must pay before the insurance company will pay the claim – and co-payments – how much the insured actually owes out of pocket – are as well as Plan D, prior authorization, Medicare Rights.

Session and Kisner, both registered nurses, talked about the Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, which allows those who have been diagnosed with or have suffered from cardiac ailments to help them get back on track to leading a heart-healthy lifestyle. The program helps participants change their lifestyle habits through educating and promoting a healthy diet, monitored exercise, strength training and an encouraging community of support. The program is held at Davis Medical Center under the supervision of a doctor and nurses, who monitor and motivate participants throughout the process.

“Our program is 36 sessions long, about three per week, and participants have a year to complete the program,” Session said. “One of the things we’ve come to learn about the program is how the people in it connect with each other. There’s this underlying sense of community that I don’t think they would get anywhere else.”

Some of the participants, past and present, who were in attendance spoke up at the forum about their experiences.

“It increased my awareness about getting from Point A to Point B,” Charles Jordan said. “It’s comforting to have nurses and doctors present to watch over you. It’s also great to have other people who have the opportunity to share my experience with others who have had similar problems.”

For those interested in participating in the program, contact Sessions or Kisner at 304-637-3623.

Contact Chad Clem by email at cclem@theintermountain.com.