February is American Heart Month, and now is a great time to start making heart healthier choices! Our hearts are instrumental in helping us lead happy and healthy lives. The heart is a muscle that pumps blood throughout our entire body; this blood gives our bodies oxygen and necessary nourishment that we need to function properly. This month, we recognize heart disease and promote heart health in our everyday activities.
During American Heart Month, we are encouraged to wear red to raise awareness of heart disease. Heart disease is caused by the buildup of plaques or fatty deposits over many years in the walls of the coronary arteries, or atherosclerosis. It is the leading cause of death in the United States – the buildup of plaque reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle, which can cause heart attack. As people age, the risk of heart disease grows higher because aging causes changes in heart and blood vessels.
However, there are many ways to avoid risk of heart disease, even at an older age! Here are a few ways to take your heart health into your own hands and reduce the risk of heart disease:
- Keep your cholesterol and blood pressure controlled: Get your blood pressure checked regularly (at least once per year for most adults), and ask your doctor if lifestyle changes or medication are options for lowering high cholesterol.
- Eat a healthier diet: Limiting saturated fats, foods high in sodium and processed foods with added sugar are great ways to keep a clean, healthy diet and reduce risk of heart disease.
- Exercise regularly: Exercising strengthens the heart and improves circulation. It can also lead to a healthy body weight, which is an important preventative factor. Risk for heart disease increases as you become overweight or obese – incorporating exercise into your daily routine can get your heart rate up and promote healthy blood flow throughout the body.
- Manage stress: High blood pressure due to stress can be a “trigger” for heart attack, and coping mechanisms of dealing with stress often include overeating, drinking and smoking. These activities can be detrimental to heart health. Stress can also be reduced by getting enough sleep; 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night is encouraged for most adults.
American Heart Month is a time to value our health and ensure we are living active and healthy lifestyles. Our hearts are vital to our health – let’s make sure we treat our hearts and bodies right, get our blood pumping regularly, and encourage our loved ones to do the same. Here’s to healthier living!