It’s February, and hearts are everywhere urging you to spread the love! But we’re not talking only about the feelings of love between families, friends, and the special “someone” we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. February is also American Heart Month, a national observance sponsored by the American Heart Association to promote awareness about heart disease and steps people can take to prevent it.
Let’s start with the facts.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. One in four deaths each year are the result of heart disease. And it doesn’t just affect older people. More and more younger adults are affected, at least in part because of a rise in risk factors that lead to heart disease. Half of all Americans currently have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
What are the risk factors?
There are several factors, conditions, and behaviors that could influence the risk of heart disease – at any age:
- Factors you can’t change: There are some factors that you cannot control, including age, gender, ethnicity, and family history. The risk of heart disease increases with age; men age 45 and older and women age 55 and older have a greater risk. Hispanic Americans and South Asians have a higher risk of heart disease than White Americans; African Americans and East Asians have lower rates. And, if you have a close family member who had heart disease at an early age, your risk is also higher.
- High blood pressure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the biggest risks for heart disease and other harmful conditions, such as stroke.
- High cholesterol: While cholesterol levels have been shown to have some degree of genetic component, other factors also contribute: diabetes, obesity, smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and inadequate physical activity (see below).
- Smoking: Smoking is known to cause damage to blood vessels, resulting in a higher risk for heart disease.
- Obesity: Extra weight puts stress on the heart. Increasing numbers of obese adults – and children – is an alarming trend in the US.
- Diabetes: Having diabetes increases the risk of heart disease because of increased levels of sugar in the blood which causes damage to blood vessels and nerves.
- Unhealthy diet: Diets high in sodium, trans-fat, saturated fat, and sugar can contribute to high blood pressure and other risk factors.
- Inadequate physical activity: Physical activity keeps the blood vessels healthy, helps keep weight under control, and helps lower the risk of other illnesses including diabetes and high blood pressure. Only 1 in 5 adults meet the recommended guideline of 150 minutes of moderate-intense activity weekly.
How can I lower my risk of heart disease?
The most effective way to lower the risk of heart disease centers around minimizing the factors outlined above. Here are some tips:
- Manage existing health conditions. Work together with your health care providers to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and other risk factors.
- Maintain a healthy weight and eat a healthy diet while limiting alcohol. Diets high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in sodium and “bad” fats lower these risks. For lots of great-tasting and family-friendly recipes, see Deliciously Healthy Family Meals.
- Get regular physical activity. Try to get moving for at least 150 minutes per week, breaking it up into 10-minute blocks if necessary.
- Don’t smoke. Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Avoid stress.
- Get enough sleep. This may sound like an unrealistic dream, depending on your stage in life, but never under-estimate the importance of sleep. Everything ties together: inadequate sleep raises the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity which raise the risk for heart disease as noted above. Inadequate sleep also often leads to unhealthy eating, inadequate exercise, and higher levels of stress.
Love your heart!
Remember, even if you have pre-disposed risks to heart disease, it can often be prevented by making healthy choices and managing health conditions. Families, communities, and health professionals can work together to create ways for people to make healthier choices every day. At Integrity Urgent Care, we’re here to help you with those healthy choices – not just respond to an urgent care need. Call us or stop into one of our convenient locations today!
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US DHHS). February: American heart month. Healthfinder.gov. Updated 13 Feb 2019 [accessed 13 Feb 2019]. https://healthfinder.gov/nho/februarytoolkit.aspx
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Deliciously Healthy Family Meals. US DHHS National Institutes of Health. Dec 2010. https://healthyeating.nhlbi.nih.gov/pdfs/KTB_Family_Cookbook_2010.pdf
US National Library of Medicine. Health topics: How to prevent heart disease. MedlinePlus.gov [online]. Last updated 8 Feb 2019 [accessed 13 Feb 2019]. https://medlineplus.gov/howtopreventheartdisease.html