When you think of February, do you think of hearts? After all, Valentine’s Day was just last week. But February is also American Heart Month, a time to show yourself and those you care about the love associated with this month.
Most of us don’t realize that cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, is the number 1 killer of women and men in the U.S. It’s the leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities. CVD costs over $300 billion each year, including the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity.
CVD doesn’t affect all groups of people in the same way. Although the number of preventable deaths has declined in people ages 65-74 years, it’s remained the same for those under age 65. Men are more than twice as likely to die as women from preventable CDV. Of course, having a close relative who has heart disease puts you at greater risk. Heart disease tends to be higher in the southern and lowest in the western parts of the U.S. African Americans are more prone to have some form of CVD as well as have high blood pressure.
Here are some strategies from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that you might try for better heart health. You may be surprised how many of them can become lifelong habits.
Work with your health care team. Get a checkup at least once a year even if you feel healthy.
Keep in mind that high blood pressure and diabetes, which put you at risk for CVD, can go unnoticed for too long if you don’t get regular checkups.
Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure often has no symptoms so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis.
Get your cholesterol checked. For many people, getting your cholesterol checked at least every 5 years is adequate. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, check with your health care team.
Eat a healthy diet. Choosing healthful meals and snack options can help you avoid CVD and its complications. Limiting sodium, eating fresh fruits and veggies, keeping fats in check and getting adequate fiber can help protect you from CVD.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase your risk for CVD. Many health care professionals can calculate your body mass index (BMI) to determine if your weight is in range. If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html.
Exercising regularly (you knew this was coming!). Being active can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Most adults need to have at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.
Don’t smoke. Smoking greatly increases your risk for CVD. Check with your health care team for ways to quit.
Limit alcohol use. Too much alcohol increases your blood pressure. Men should stick to no more than two drinks per day and women to no more than one.
Manage your diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar levels closely and talk with your health care team about treatment options.
Take your medicine. Always follow directions carefully. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. If you have side effects, talk with your health care team about your options.
For more information on CVD, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for ways to protect your heart and live a longer, healthier life.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.