When we think about observances that take place each February, the sweet-treat holiday Valentine’s Day comes to mind. With its flurry of red hearts and mouthwatering confections, who can forget this annual event?
But February is also known for another heart-related observance: American Heart Month. A less festive occasion, to be sure, probably less well-known as well, but ever so important. Did you know that more than 600,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, making it the number one cause of death for most groups, impacting all ages, genders, and ethnicities?
The month-long observance raises awareness about the prevalence of heart disease. It also seeks to educate about risk factors, which include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and excessive alcohol use. Unfortunately, many realities of modern life—unchecked stress, obesity, the frantic pace we maintain, rampant uncertainty—tend to worsen risk factors, making people more prone to heart disease. That’s why it’s imperative that folks take a proactive role in maintaining heart health by incorporating these strategies into their life.
1. Give Yourself A Break
About that unchecked stress –the pandemic has raised stress levels exponentially across the board. COVID-19 has heaped stress-laden situations upon lives already challenged by pressure from health concerns to job woes to economic uncertainty. Make note: stress is hard on the heart. It induces “stress eating” for some, raises blood pressure in others, and causes mental, emotional, and physical fatigue in everyone.
The key is to find ways to relax, which means participating in activities that help us unwind, spending time with people who make us laugh, and being in the presence of pets who calm us. It’s vital to find and then make time for those things that clear your head and free your thoughts from worry.
2. Know Your Numbers – Talk With Your Doctor
Knowledge is power, right? That’s why knowing your numbers—blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, etc.—is so critical. You and your physician then have the information to make wise choices. Of course, this means making an appointment and following through with the appropriate testing. And then the follow-up for progress reports and medication adjustments, etc.
The same goes for family history. Knowing who died from what and when, and then discussing this information with your doc is another crucial piece of the puzzle.
If you’re age 50 to 59, ask your physician about taking an aspirin every day as it can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke for some individuals—only your doctor can tell you if it’s right for you.
3. Get Active
Regular physical activity can help prevent heart disease. This means you should get your heart pumping with some type of activity—walking, biking, dancing—for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
Take it slow if you’re just getting started. And don’t discount the benefit of even short spurts of activity. With persistence, you will build your stamina and reap the benefits of heart-pumping exercise.
4. Maintain A Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Losing even 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help lower your risk of heart disease. In addition, physical activity will help with weight loss/maintenance efforts. And talk to your physician as well, as they can offer advice for weight management.
This year let the red hearts of Valentine’s Day remind you to be all in for heart health.