February is American Heart Month and this year the Centers for Disease Control is offering weekly tips for better heart health.
Every journey begins with one step, whether it’s climbing a mountain or preventing heart disease. Heart disease is a major problem. Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. About 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States each year—that’s one out of every four deaths. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to an American Heart Association report on heart disease and stroke statistics.
The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type in the United States is coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease), which occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Coronary heart disease can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias.
Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, costs the United States $312.6 billion each year, according to the AHA report. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity. These conditions also are leading causes of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities.
The situation is alarming, but there is good news—heart disease is preventable and controllable. We can start by taking small steps every day to bring our loved ones and ourselves closer to heart health. The CDC is providing a tip-a-day throughout February, but you begin your journey to better heart health now by starting with the following:
- Eat health – Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables—adults should have at least 5 servings each day. Eating foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol. Limiting salt or sodium in your diet also can lower your blood pressure. For more information on healthy diet and nutrition, visit CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Web site and ChooseMyPlate.gov
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight – Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate a number called the body mass index (BMI). Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure a person’s body fat. If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight Web site.
- Exercise regularly – Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. For more information, see CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Web site.
- Monitor your blood pressure – High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis. You can check your blood pressure at home, at a pharmacy, or at a doctor’s office. Find more information at CDC’s High Blood Pressure Web site.
- Don’t smoke – Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit as soon as possible. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit. For more information about tobacco use and quitting, see CDC’s Smoking & Tobacco Use Web site and Smokefree.gov
- Limit alcohol use – Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can increase your blood pressure. Men should stick to no more than two drinks per day, and women to no more than one. For more information, visit CDC’s Alcohol and Public Health Web site.
- Have your cholesterol checked – Your health care provider should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 5 years. Talk with your doctor about this simple blood test. You can find out more from CDC’s High Cholesterol Web site.
- Manage your diabetes – If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely, and talk with your doctor about treatment options. Visit CDC’s Diabetes Public Health Resource for more information.
- Take your medications as prescribed – If you’re taking medication to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something.
As you begin, remember:
- Don’t become overwhelmed. Every step brings you closer to a healthier heart.
- Don’t go it alone. The journey is more fun when you have company. Ask friends and family to join you.
- Don’t get discouraged. You may not be able to take all of the steps at one time. Get a good night’s sleep and do what you can tomorrow.
- Reward yourself. Find fun things to do to decrease your stress. Round up some colleagues for a lunchtime walk, join a singing group, or have a healthy dinner with your family or friends.
The five major symptoms of a heart attack are:
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
- Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 9–1–1 immediately.
For more information on a healthy heart visit www.cdc.gov or the American Heart Association website.
(This article was taken from www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth.)