By: Rebecca Thompson, CHES
February is American Heart Month, and unfortunately, most of us know someone who has had heart disease or a stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but heart disease is preventable and controllable. Heart related conditions are also the leading causes of disability preventing people from working and enjoying family activities.
Heart disease is a major problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack, and about 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States – that’s 1 out of every 4 deaths. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
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.
Things to Consider
As you begin your journey to better heart health, keep these things in mind:
Don’t become overwhelmed. Every step brings you closer to a
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.
Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Some health conditions and lifestyle factors can put people at a higher risk for developing heart disease. You can help prevent heart disease by making healthy choices and managing any medical conditions you may have.
Eat a healthy diet. Choosing healthy 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.
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).
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.
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.
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, or you can call the NC Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
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.
Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely, and talk with your doctor about treatment options.
Take your medicine. 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.
Heart Attack Symptoms
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 911 immediately.
(Information provided by the Forsyth County Department of Public Health and the CDC’s Million Hearts Campaign)