February is known for chocolate hearts, paper hearts, heart-shaped boxes, and heart-covered T-shirts, socks, and jewelry. Over 30 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are sold for Valentine’s Day and the number of cards sold is second only to Christmas. This makes February the perfect month for American Heart Month.
Doctors would probably agree with this sentiment, especially since making wise choices is a good start toward having a healthy heart. American Heart Month is a great month to consider those wise choices. President Lyndon Johnson first proclaimed February to be American Heart Month in 1964. The month is dedicated to promoting heart health and raising awareness of heart disease, especially in women. This is more important than ever as heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. One in four deaths each year are attributed to heart disease.
Once considered an “old people” disease, heart disease now affects more young adults due to rising rates of obesity and high blood pressure in adults under 64 years old. The American Heart Association reports that 48% of American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), half of Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors—high blood pressure, smoking, and high cholesterol. Consider these and other risk factors:
High blood pressure: Millions of Americans in their 40s and 50s have uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels which leads to heart disease.
High cholesterol: Diabetes, obesity, smoking, an unhealthy diet, and inadequate physical activity can result in high cholesterol.
Inadequate physical activity: Most Americans do not get enough moderate-intensity activity.
Unhealthy diet: Too much sodium results in high blood pressure. A diet high in fat and sugar increases risk of heart disease.
Obesity: Extra pounds put stress on the heart.
Diabetes: Blood vessels and nerves that affect the heart muscle are damaged when sugar builds up in the blood.
The good news is that making healthy choices and managing health conditions can go a long way towards preventing heart disease. Ask your friend, sweetheart, or special Valentine to hold you accountable to making these changes to reduce your risk of heart disease:
Small changes, such as using more spices and herbs to replace salt and Increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet, can have a big impact. Reducing fats and sugar will help your heart and weight. This would be a great month to try out a food diary app. Many are free and track calories, fat, sugar, sodium, and exercise.
Increase physical activity. The CDC recommends 150 minutes per week. Take the stairs. Park farther away from the building. Take your friend or sweetheart for a brisk walk.
Stop smoking. In addition to helping your heart, it will reduce risk of stroke.
Manage and monitor high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Inexpensive blood pressure monitors for home use can be purchased for less than $50.
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