Valentine’s Day is February 14th, but here’s another reason you should think about hearts this month: February is American Heart Month! This annual observance is designated to raise awareness of heart disease, the No. 1 one killer of men and women in the United States. Approximately 600,000 Americans die from heart disease each year.
Luckily, heart disease is both preventable and manageable. Certain lifestyle changes can greatly improve your health and keep your cardiovascular system strong. Consider making some of these heart-healthy changes during American Heart Month, and keep your ticker in tip-top shape!
Clean up your diet
A balanced diet that’s high in protein, whole grain fiber, fruits and vegetables is a great defense against heart disease. Unfortunately, many of us turn to fast food or prepackaged convenience food to fit into our busy schedules. These unhealthy foods are often laden with saturated fats, preservatives, sugars and sodium, which produce a variety of unhealthy side effects. A heart-healthy diet will nourish your body with the necessary vitamins and nutrients to keep you healthy and strong. You’ll feel better, have more energy, lose excess weight and keep cardiovascular disease at bay.
Manage your blood pressure
A healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80. Do you know yours? Approximately one in three adults has high blood pressure, but many are not aware of it. High blood pressure often produces no symptoms, but if left untreated, it can be deadly. When blood flows through the arteries with too much force, microscopic tears occur in the artery walls. As the body begins to repair these tears, scar tissue traps white blood cells and plaque, causing blockages or blood clots. These blockages and clots can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure or heart failure. Check your blood pressure regularly, and seek help from your doctor if your numbers are out of range.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines, adults should do 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week for substantial health benefits. However, nearly 70 percent of Americans do not get the recommended amount of physical activity. Regular exercise decreases your risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular function and aiding in weight management. Not to mention, you’ll feel healthier and more energetic! Exercise is a great way to care for your heart, but be sure to check with your physician before starting a new exercise routine.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. And it’s no surprise, considering cigarettes are known to cause an array of health problems, including cancer to heart disease. Smoking can lead to blood clots and hardened arteries, which in turn can cause a heart attack or stroke. Do your heart a favor. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, consider some of these resources to help you quit (Source: American Heart Association).