Around this time of the year, hearts become a popular topic of discussion.
While it may seem related to Valentine’s Day, or like it’s just a coincidence, these conversations are highlighted because February is American Heart Month. Established in 1964, American Heart Month is observed to raise awareness of the causes of heart disease and what you can do to reduce your risk of developing it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for people in the United States. They report that 1 in every 4 deaths in the U.S. is attributed to heart disease, which is equivalent to approximately 659,000 deaths each year. Heart disease includes conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart infection, arrhythmias, heart valve and muscle disease, and congenital heart defects. These conditions may lead to heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and cardiac arrest.
Several risk factors could increase your chance of developing most forms of heart disease. As you get older, your risk for heart disease gradually increases. Smoking and other unhealthy lifestyle choices such as lack of exercise and poor diet have been directly linked to heart disease. If you have a history of heart disease in your family, you are more likely to be affected by it yourself if preventative measures are not taken.
Although the prospect of a cardiovascular-related illness may seem daunting, the good news is that you can take steps to keep your heart healthy.
Eat a healthy diet
Diet is one factor you have complete control over that can make a significant difference in your risk for heart disease. In general, you should try to eat fewer red meats and processed foods, more whole foods, plants and lean proteins, and moderate your alcohol consumption.
Exercise every day
Participating in some form of moderate-intensity exercise for at least 2.5 hours each week is recommended for adults by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. This includes activities such as brisk walking, dancing and other light exercises.
If you can’t carve out 2.5 hours during your week, any amount of exercise that you are able to do will provide health benefits. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, standing at your desk instead of sitting and parking farther away from the grocery store are a few good examples of including more exercise in your everyday life.
Practice good mental health habits
Stress and poor mental health can have a detrimental effect on heart health and may lead to the adoption of other unhealthy practices such as overeating, smoking and not exercising.
Poorly managed stress and mental health could even lead to physical responses like an irregular heart rate, reduced blood flow to the heart and increased blood pressure. Manage stress and take care of your mental health by getting enough sleep, practicing yoga, exercising regularly, maintaining positive attitudes and spending time with family and friends.
Avoid all forms of smoking
The American Heart Association states that the risk of heart disease and stroke increases by two to four times from smoking alone. Smoking increases your heart rate and blood pressure, decreases your HDL cholesterol, decreases oxygen in your heart, brain and arteries, and thickens your blood, increasing your risk of blood clots. However, if you stop smoking today, you will cut your risk of having a heart attack in half within a year and can even get your heart attack risk down to that of a nonsmoker if you continue your smokeless regimen.
It is important to take care of your own heart health and try your best to inform and encourage others to practice healthy habits. If you find yourself in a situation where someone needs immediate assistance, Canandaigua Emergency Squad provides CPR, AED and First Aid training so that you can act quickly if someone goes into cardiac arrest before emergency services arrive.
About this series
Matt Sproul is chief of Canandaigua Emergency Squad (CES), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit unit that receives no tax-based support. CES responds to more than 6,000 calls per year serving the towns of Canandaigua, Bristol, Hopewell, Gorham and East Bloomfield and the village of Bloomfield. East Bloomfield Volunteer Ambulance is a division of CES. For more information, go to canandaiguaes.org. If you have questions or want to get involved, send emails to [email protected]