Not only is February the season for heart-shaped candy boxes, candy hearts with “Be Mine” or “Text Me” on them, and Valentine’s Day cards abounding with hearts, but it is also Heart Health Month!
Why Heart Health Month? Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. It is also one that we can have the most impact on through the decisions we make. Below are some practical things you can do personally to make a difference in your own life, as well as ways you can raise awareness of the importance on making heart health more of a focus.
- Act: Schedule a Heart Health Checkup
- Explore: Do you have a family history of heart disease?
- Explore: Do you know the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
- Learn: Sign up for a CPR/AED course near you.
Act: Schedule a Heart Health Checkup
Being able to have an accurate measurement of your heart health begins with scheduling a checkup or screening that includes biometric testing. These typically include: body mass index (BMI) or a more thorough body mass composition analysis, height, weight, fasting lipoprotein profile (cholesterol), blood pressure and blood glucose levels. These numbers can serve as an indicator of your current heart health and begin the process of developing lifestyle change recommendations that could improve them. Click here for a link to The American Heart Association’s Heart-Health Screenings Guide.
Explore: Do you have a family history of heart disease?
Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Just as you can’t control your age, sex and race, you can’t control your family history. Therefore, it’s even more important to treat and control any other risk factors you have.
Explore: Do you know the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
The American Heart Association categorizes risk factors as follows: Major Risk Factors, Modifiable Risk Factors and Contributing Risk Factors. The below risk factors descriptions come from the American Heart Association’s website– http://www.heart.org.
Major Risk Factors that Cannot Be Changed
The risk factors on this list are ones you’re born with and cannot be changed. The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease. Since you can’t do anything about these risk factors, it’s even more important for you to manage the risk factors that can be changed.
- Increasing Age: The majority of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older.
- Male Sex (Gender): Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life.
- Heredity (Including Race): Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves.
Major Risk Factors That You Can Modify, Treat or Control
- 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: As blood cholesterol rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart muscle to thicken and become stiffer. This stiffening of the heart muscle is not normal, and causes the heart not to work properly. It also increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases even more. Learn more about managing your blood pressure.
- Physical inactivity: An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps reduce the risk of heart and blood vessel disease. Even moderate-intensity activities help if done regularly and long term. Physical activity can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people. Learn more about getting active.
- 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 and produce clinically meaningful reductions in some risk factors.
- Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease., even when glucose levels are under control. 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.
Other Factors That Contribute to Heart Disease
- Stress: Individual response to stress may be a contributing factor. Some scientists have noted a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress in a person’s life, their health behaviors and socioeconomic status. For example, people under stress may overeat, start smoking or smoke more than they otherwise would. Get stress management tips and tools.
- Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, increase risk of cardiomyopathy and stroke, cancer and other diseases. It can contribute to high triglycerides, and produce irregular heartbeats. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to obesity, alcoholism, suicide and accidents.
- Diet and Nutrition” A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight cardiovascular disease. The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other controllable risk factors: cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and overweight. Choose nutrient-rich foods — which have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories — over nutrient-poor foods. Choose a diet that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; includes low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, nontropical vegetable oils, and nuts; and limits intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats.
LEARN: Sign up for a CPR/AED course near you
Having someone trained in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) nearby has been shown to have a dramatic impact on the survival rate for those having a heart attack. One of the best things that we can do to decrease the number of deaths from heart attacks is to increase the number of individuals trained in CPR. Click here for a search tool to find CPR training opportunities in your area.
This Heart Health Month you can take steps to drastically improve your quality of life and raise awareness of the importance of making better lifestyle choices.
Heart Health Screenings from Heart.org
Understand Your Risks to Prevent a Heart Attack from Heart.org