If you’ve been considering making substantive changes to your diet and physical activity to improve your health and overall well-being, February is the perfect time to go for it!
February is American Heart Month ― a health initiative first developed by President Johnson in 1964 to improve heart health and spread awareness about the numerous conditions and ailments related to heart disease, which has been the number one cause of death in America every year since 1900 (other than 1918).
For those of you still on the fence about taking steps to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, here are some statistics that might help you make the leap:
- Cardiovascular diseases lead to more deaths than all forms of cancer combined
- Roughly 25% of deaths in the United States can be attributed to heart disease
- More than 700,000 people experience a heart attack every year
- Those living in the southeastern states are at the greatest risk to die of heart disease
Thankfully, increased education and awareness have led to less deaths related to heart disease since the 1980s, and you can become part of this encouraging trend by recognizing the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of heart disease and taking action to address them.
Risk Factors, Signs, and Symptoms of Coronary Events
Certain behaviors or medical conditions might increase the potential for you or a loved one to develop heart disease. Common risk factors for heart disease include:
- Unhealthy weight or obesity
- Lack of exercise
- Poor diet
- Substance abuse or excessive drinking
By recognizing the signs and symptoms of heart disease and/or a coronary event early, you can take the necessary steps to reduce risk and produce quality health outcomes. If you notice any of the following symptoms, please visit your primary care physician right away:
- Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms
- Chest pain or discomfort (angina)
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Women more commonly experience heartburn, nausea, or difficulty breathing
- Men more commonly experience cold sweats or pain in the left arm
- Heart Failure Signs and Symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, and neck
- Irregular Heartbeat (Arrhythmia) Signs and Symptoms
- Rapid heart rate
- Slowed heart rate
- Sudden cardiac arrest, which requires immediate medical attention to prevent loss of life
Certain women with heart disease might not experience any symptoms prior to a coronary event. This is known as silent coronary heart disease and can prove fatal, making it all the more important to receive regular health screenings and report any symptoms you are experiencing to your doctor immediately.
Improving Your Cardiovascular Health
There are numerous steps you can take to improve your cardiovascular health and mitigate potential risks for developing heart disease or experiencing a cardiac event.
- Get Plenty of Sleep: Studies indicate that individuals who regularly get seven or more hours of quality sleep have less calcium in their arteries than those who get little or excessive sleep. If you’re having problems regulating your sleep habits, visit your primary care physician.
- Annual Blood Pressure Checks: High blood pressure can lead to scar tissue building up in your arteries, which can then lead to heart disease or a coronary event. People under the age of 40 should get their blood pressure checked every other year, and those over 40 should do so annually.
- Improve Your Diet: Diet is one of the most important elements of maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Reduce your salt intake, limit your alcohol intake, and eat more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein while attempting to cut out saturated fats whenever possible and eliminate artificial trans fats, which are most commonly found in processed foods, from your diet.
- Get Screened for Diabetes: One of the most common and dangerous risk factors associated with heart disease and coronary events is diabetes ― a condition that millions of Americans are living with without their knowledge. So be sure to undergo blood sugar tests regularly, especially if you are over 45, pregnant, or overweight. If you have prediabetes, determine an action plan with your primary care physician to improve your diet and exercise more regularly.
- Exercise Regularly: Here’s that dreaded word: exercise. Most of us view adopting a regular exercise program as a daunting and even overwhelming task, but you can drastically improve your heart health by engaging in physical activity for just 30 minutes each day. Be wary of how much time you spend sitting or lying down each day (especially if you work in an office setting), and try to stand, walk, or run at regular intervals throughout your day ― even if that’s as simple as walking in place while watching television or FaceTiming a friend.
Heart disease facts. (2015, August 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
MacMillan, A. (2016, October 12). Tips for better heart health. WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/prevention-15/heart-healthy/12-tips-for-better-heart-health