February is American Heart Month. You may have seen women wearing red last week as part of the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign to increase awareness of the danger of heart disease faced by women.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. Heart disease includes several types of heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, chest pain (angina), and heart attack. Cardiovascular diseases cost the country $320.1 billion annually. Fortunately, heart disease is largely preventable and there are many steps we can take to reduce our risk.
The National Institute of Health recommends increasing your activity as a major way to reduce your risk of heart disease. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Take an afternoon stroll, try an exercise class, or challenge the whole family to a soccer match. If the 150 minutes goal is out of reach today, remember that even a few minutes is good for you. A small bit of activity is better than nothing. So do as much as you can today and add more over time — every minute counts!
Remember: more activity means a bigger boost to your health, so try to stay active between workouts. Here are some ideas:
- Take the stairs.
- Stand up when you change television channels.
- When you hear good music, don’t just sit there, dance!
- Stand up during meetings, or better yet, suggest a walking meeting.
- Park in the farthest space from your destination.
- Get off the bus one stop early.
- Play with your kids at the playground.
Physical activity isn’t the only piece of the heart health puzzle. The Center for Disease Control suggests the following:
- Make healthy eating a habit. Small changes in your eating habits can make a big difference. Look for ways to lower sodium, processed sugars, and trans fats. Add more fruits and vegetables.
- Quit tobacco—for good. Smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco products affects nearly every organ in your body, including your heart. Quitting can be tough, but it can be easier when you feel supported. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) today.
- Know your numbers. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are major risk factors for heart disease. Ask your health care team to check your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels regularly and help you take steps to control your levels.
- Stick to the ’script. Taking your medications can be tough, especially if you feel fine. But sticking with your medication routine is important for managing and controlling conditions that could put your heart at risk.
- Lower your stress. Stress isn’t just bad for your mental health, it can have serious consequences on your physical health. Learning what increases your stress levels is a good first step in controlling stress. Taking the time to participate in a favorite activity or hobby or simply sitting quietly and concentrating on your breathing can help. Physical activity—those 150 minutes mentioned earlier—can also help. But, don’t let the need to exercise add to your stress levels.
Any time you consider changing your exercise and diet habits, you should check in with your doctor to make sure you make the changes safely. Your doctor may have special recommendations to ensure you proceed at the best pace for your circumstances.
The CDC Foundation’s Live to the Beat campaign reminds us that “You’re in charge. Your heart is your powerhouse. But when it works harder than it should, it can leave you feeling worn down or worse. The good news is there’s a lot you can do to improve your heart health — and it doesn’t have to be push-ups and salads all the time! No matter where you are in your journey, you can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke by making small changes, and you can get started right now.”