February is more than just a month marked by roses and chocolates; it’s a time to reflect on matters of the heart—both romantic and vital. In the United States, February is designated as American Heart Month, a timely reminder to prioritize our heart health and take proactive steps to do what we can to lessen the likelihood of developing heart disease, which is still the leading cause of death for both men and women. At Northwest Specialty Hospital, we think this is an ideal time of year to begin a program that promotes a healthier heart.
Understanding the Prevalence of Heart Disease
The statistics on heart disease in the U.S. paint a sobering picture, underscoring the urgency of addressing heart health collectively.
The first step towards heart health involves understanding the risk factors associated with heart disease. The risk factors can be classified into two broad categories: those beyond our control, such as age, sex, and family history, and those we can modify through lifestyle changes. Identifying modifiable risk factors is critical to formulating an effective strategy for heart health.
Know Your Risks, Take Action
Common risk factors for developing heart disease include experiencing chronic high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, being significantly overweight, having diabetes, smoking, failing to engage in regular physical activity, and having unhealthy eating habits. Each factor contributes to an individual’s overall risk of developing heart disease. The more risk factors one has, the higher the overall risk.
While inheritable risk factors are beyond our control, many other factors can be modified through lifestyle changes. Regularly exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and adopting a heart-friendly diet are fundamental steps toward safeguarding heart health. These changes need not be drastic; gradual adjustments can yield significant benefits over time.
Empowering Heart Health
Research indicates that positive relationships and a sense of connection positively impact overall health, including blood pressure and weight. Here are five practical tips to help lower the risk of heart disease:
- Avoid Inactivity: Move more throughout the day, aiming for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Break the daily activity into manageable 10-minute chunks if time is a constraint.
- Adopt a Healthier Diet: Consider adopting a heart-conscious eating plan, increasing the consumption of fresh fruit, whole grains, and fiber, and lowering the intake of alcohol, salt, and saturated fats. Remember, you don’t have to take drastic steps at once; you can make gradual shifts in your diet, changing the balance of foods to favor those that can help you lower your blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and lose weight. It helps to make eating healthy a social activity by cooking heart-healthy recipes with friends.
- Quit Smoking: Quitting, even after years of smoking, will significantly benefit your overall health, including your heart health. Seek support from family and friends or join a support group if you have difficulty giving up this habit.
- Improve Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and avoid watching screens – computer, television, or tablet – before bedtime. Give up some of that screen time to give you more sleep time.
- Control Stress: Manage stress through relaxation therapy and release some tension by increasing your physical activity. Engage in relaxing activities like walking, yoga, or meditation daily. Do it with a friend or spouse to make these activities more enjoyable.
Prioritize Your Heart During American Heart Month
Heart disease remains a pervasive health threat, but you can mitigate its impact by understanding your risks and taking proactive measures. American Heart Month serves as a timely reminder that the health of your heart is in your hands. By making informed choices and embracing a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can protect your heart and enhance your overall well-being.
If you are concerned about your heart health due to a family history of heart disease, or would like advice on steps you should consider in promoting your heart health, schedule an appointment with your physician at Northwest Specialty Hospital.