February is Heart Awareness Month, and there are things you need to know. Take some time this month to ask yourself some key questions. Stop dismissing your health, and this time, take it to heart.
Are You Aware?
Are you aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and has been since the 1920s? 610,000 people die from heart disease each year. To break it down even further, heart disease accounts for one out of every four deaths in the U.S. The numbers show the seriousness of the issue and highlight why awareness is important.
The good news is that awareness is working! While heart disease remains the leading cause of death, the number of deaths has dropped. Between 1950 and the late 1990s, heart disease mortality rate dropped by 60%. It has dropped another 31% since then. However, there is still more work to do, and it starts with information.
Heart disease refers to several conditions, including arrhythmias, heart defects, problems with the heart muscle and valves, and blood vessel diseases. No matter the form of heart disease, it can ultimately lead to heart attack or stroke. Typical symptoms of heart disease are irregular or racing heartbeat, swelling, shortness of breath, and pain in the chest, neck, arms, and/or legs. Depending on the type of heart disease, certain symptoms are more predominant and can be accompanied by other problems.
Are You At Risk?
There are many factors that put a person at higher risk for heart disease. High blood pressure is a major one because of its prevalence in the U.S.—78 million adults struggle with high blood pressure. Close to half of these people don’t have their blood pressure under control, which puts them at the greatest risk for heart disease. High cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity also increase a person’s risk of heart disease. These issues put added pressure on the heart to perform its normal function of circulating blood through the body. Cholesterol buildup can also cause narrowing of arteries and make it even more difficult to move the blood through the veins.
Lifestyle habits can also increase your risk of heart disease. Poor diet, inactivity, and smoking are the three factors that contribute the most. Diets high in sodium and fat can cause high blood pressure, and a lot of sugar can compound the risk of heart disease. An unhealthy diet can also increase a person’s chances of getting diabetes, which can permanently damage the blood vessels and nerves connected to the heart. A lack of physical activity can promote irregular heartbeats and a less efficient pump, leading to shortness of breath, dizziness, and even heart failure. Smoking can permanently narrow the arteries and reduce the flow of blood and the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Are You Ready?
Maybe your awareness has inspired you to take better care of your heart. Most risk can be decreased by making different lifestyle choices. Looking at the risks above provides a good checklist for improving heart health—eat better, stay active, and quit smoking. A diet that primarily consists of fruits, vegetables, and protein is ideal. Some fat and sugar are ok, but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of your calories. Get moving! Research shows that even short bouts of physical activity are beneficial, so if thirty minutes seems too daunting, break it up into three ten-minute chunks. Your goal should be to do some form of moderate physical activity for 150 minutes each week. Smoking increases health risks in many areas, including heart disease, and your risk decreases the day you quit. Talk to your doctor about strategies to help you stop smoking.
In addition to diet and exercise, stress management has also shown to be effective in lowering risk of heart disease. Relaxation exercises or meditation can be helpful, but so can taking time for simple pleasures throughout the day—read a chapter of a book, take a bubble bath, get a coffee from your favorite place, etc. Lastly, always be sure to take medications as prescribed and continue to monitor them with your doctor. This is especially important for people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and other conditions that characteristically add risks for heart disease. If you’re ready to take the next step toward improving your heart health, start with a heart screening at TrustCare Heart Clinic. We can evaluate your results and medical history to create a plan for reducing risk, addressing issues, and increasing your overall heart health. Book an appointment with us today!