February is American Heart Month, but why should you care? According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, resulting in approximately one in every four deaths. Every 36 seconds, one person in the U.S dies from a cardiovascular disease. If this has not yet affected you personally, chances are it has impacted the health of someone you know. Here’s what you need to know.
The term “heart disease” includes a number of conditions such as heart attacks, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and others. Your risk for contracting heart disease depends on several factors including your age, family history, lifestyle and various health conditions. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol all increase the likelihood of a heart condition, along with smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. Having a poor diet and being physically inactive also factor into the equation. The good news is that many of these conditions are modifiable, and you have the opportunity each day to make choices that improve your health and decrease your risk.
Despite knowing that you have some degree of control, it is often difficult to know where to begin. There are an abundance of resources in our ever-connected world, but how do you know what is reliable? Experts and leading organizations in the field such as the American Heart Association, Center for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health all have similar advice. Here are some practical things you can start doing this month to work towards a healthier heart.
- Improve your diet. Make small changes such as increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you consume or switching from sugary drinks to water. Try consuming fewer processed foods which tend to be high in saturated fat and low in fiber.
- Get moving. Physical activity has a number of benefits and will reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Find something you enjoy doing and make it a part of your schedule. Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. If that seems daunting, break your activity up. Increasing your heart rate for as little as ten minutes at a time provides benefits to your heart.
- Stop smoking. Your risk of heart disease drastically increases if you smoke cigarettes. Ask your doctor about resources for smoking cessation and commit to quitting. Even if you have attempted to quit unsuccessfully, try again. Benefits occur immediately.
- Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol of any kind can increase blood pressure and make your heart work harder. Women should have no more than one drink per day, and men should have no more than two drinks per day.
- Visit your doctor. Your health care provider can help you manage your medical conditions and work towards preventing or treating issues that lead to heart disease. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and always take medication as directed.
Local programming is available if you are hoping for some hands-on help. Be Heart Smart is a Purdue Extension program for individuals who want to learn more about preventing heart disease by making heart-healthy lifestyle changes. This program will teach participants how to monitor risk factors for heart disease and how to make simple changes to their daily routine that can improve their heart health. The program is comprised of four lessons delivered once per week over the course of four weeks. If you are interested in learning more about the Be Heart Smart program or would like to sign up for the next class, contact Megan Jaspersen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Purdue Extension- Perry County at 812-547-7084.