The month of February conjures up images of adorable pink and red hearts and Cupid’s bows and arrows flying through the air, but did you know February is also American Heart Health Month? February is the best time to begin taking the steps toward a healthier lifestyle and making your heart healthier. According to The Heart Foundation, heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. That’s about 1 million lives claimed annually. The most important thing to remember about heart disease is that it can be prevented with a few rather easy modifications to your lifestyle, so why not start making changes now?
The image of being healthy is looking muscular, lean, and strong, but heart disease can be a hidden, silent, ominous condition, which in turn can jeopardize every other organ in your body. Affecting both men and women of all backgrounds, heart disease can be improved and prevented by making small changes in your daily routine, which allow you to transform into a better, healthier version of yourself.
The most important step before making any changes is to educate yourself, and make sure the changes you are going to implement are actually helping and not hurting you. Even exercise should be approached with caution, especially if the new routine isn’t one your body is used to. It’s key to understand what heart disease encompasses and consult with your doctor prior to beginning any new diet or exercise routine. Education is power, and understanding heart disease allows you to be that much closer to strengthening your heart and improving it.
The term heart disease is an umbrella term. It includes diseases of not only the heart, but also the blood vessels surrounding it and leading to and from it. The range of heart diseases includes coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, and congenital heart defects, as well as other more rare conditions like cardiomyopathies and myocarditis. There are common factors that link the individuals that are affected by heart disease. Although heart disease can affect people of all ages, it’s most commonly seen in individuals who are 65 and older. However, making key lifestyle and dietary changes earlier in life can make all the difference in your later years. As most everyone knows, smoking is one of the worst things you can do to damage your heart and for a plethora of reasons. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer heart attacks as non-smokers. Other factors that increase the risks of heart disease include a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, increased alcohol use, drug abuse, emotional or mental stress, and depression. Also, a higher cholesterol level as well as high blood pressure or hypertension increase the risk of heart disease as well. Of course, all of us realize that most of these risk factors are within our control and can be improved with lifestyle changes. And many times, medications are needed to get these levels back to normal when lifestyle changes are not enough
The most important change you make towards a healthier heart, body, and mind is changing your diet. An ideal diet is one that is low in sodium, low in saturated and trans fats, while maintaining a higher unsaturated, healthy fat fraction. Needless to say, increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and less refined sugars and carbohydrates all translate to better heart health as well.
Alongside a healthier diet, committing to a moderate exercise routine on a daily level reduces your risk of heart disease markedly. The ideal exercise recommendation is to have moderate exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous activity 5 days a week. We understand that the gym isn’t for everyone, so even a brisk walk, or a game of basketball with friends incorporated into your weekly routine may help you meet some of these benchmarks.
Diet and exercise make up the bulk of the healthier lifestyle, however, it’s as important to keep your consumption of alcohol to a minimal to moderate level and not to smoke or use other tobacco products at all. Of course recreational drugs are never a healthy option, no matter what anybody says. The heart just doesn’t look kindly on these. Supplements like daily multivitamins and an aspirin a day may also help, but be sure to consult with your doctor before you incorporate them into your daily regimen.
According to The Heart Foundation, “In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds. Every 60 seconds, someone in the United States dies from a heart disease-related event.” These are alarming and frightening statistics! Organizations like the American Heart Association have dedicated their efforts to overcome heart disease one patient and one research effort at a time. Since 1924, the American Heart Association’s work has focused to “improve the lives of all Americans…[and to] provide public health education in a variety of ways. In particular, the American Heart Association is “the nation’s leader in CPR education training… [and strives to] educate lawmakers, policymakers and the public…”.
Don’t let yourself or someone you love become another tragic statistic of heart disease. Celebrate this Valentine’s Day by loving your heart and focusing on heart health. Making small, subtle changes in your everyday lifestyle may be what makes the difference in having a strong, healthy heart for a lifetime and leading the healthy life you were always meant to have!
Happy, healthy heart!
–Senada and Dr. H