For many of us, February represents the coldest of winter months, the shortest month out of the year, and Valentine’s Day. What many people may not realize is that February is also American Heart Month. American Heart Month aims to spread awareness through education and advocacy on how to maintain a healthy heart, reduce your risk for heart disease, and live a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, for adults living in the United States, heart disease is a leading cause of death. On the bright side, heart disease is largely preventable. Today we are going to explore simple decisions and lifestyle habits that can reduce your risk for heart disease and improve your overall heart health.
There are a variety of risk factors for heart disease. Some factors are permanent, and others are temporary. Some risk factors for heart disease can be changed while others, unfortunately, cannot. An estimated 47% of Americans have at least 1 of the 3 key risk factors for heart disease. These include high blood pressure, smoking cigarettes, and high cholesterol. Other risk factors can include:
- Consuming too much alcohol
- Eating a diet high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and trans fats
- Family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
- Advanced age
It may be surprising to you to know that heart disease contributes to more deaths in the United States than many other types of diseases. The prevalence of heart disease and its impact on health, families, and the economy is undeniable. Current statistics show that:
- Roughly 1.5 million people in the U.S. experience a stroke or a heart attack each year.
- Heart disease kills nearly the same amount of people as cancer, accidents, and lower respiratory disease (pneumonia) combined.
- 1 in every 3 deaths is a result of cardiovascular disease.
- Heart disease and stroke can cost the country billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and healthcare costs.
Unfortunately, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for people across the country. More than 800,000 people die each year in the U.S. from heart disease. It is widely known that death is a consequence of heart disease. Heart disease can lead to a plethora of other problems.
Mental health issues, lowered quality of life, and financial issues are all possible. More specifically, heart disease can lead to depression, financial struggles, reduction in physical activity, lower quality of life, medical complications such as stroke, speech problems, paralysis, and mental and physical disabilities. It is safe to say that the consequences of heart disease can impact nearly all aspects of a person’s life. The good news is that there are things you can do to help reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your heart health.
7 Ways to Improve Heart Health
You can do simple things to improve your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease. Keep in mind that while these strategies are simple, they can feel hard at times to implement. For example, eating healthy is simple and difficult. As you try to apply these various strategies into your life make sure that you are patient and tolerant with yourself. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Change takes time, effort, and patience.
Here are 7 strategies to improve heart health:
- Eat healthy: This includes reducing your consumption of trans fats and increase nutrient-rich foods like healthy proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
- Avoid secondhand smoke and if you are a smoker, quit as soon as possible.
- Get physically active: Make it a point to exercise several days a week. Exercise is important for heart and overall cardiovascular health.
- If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, control it with medication and other interventions approved by your doctor.
- Reduce alcohol consumption and drink alcohol in moderation.
- Learn how to manage stress without the use of drugs and alcohol. If you feel like you need to learn better coping skills for stress, consider seeing a mental health professional.
- Maintain a healthy weight: If you are eating healthy and exercising, this may not be very difficult to do. For those that struggle with weight management, consider speaking to your doctor.
If you are unsure about your health status and want more insight into your risks for heart disease, reach out to your medical professional. They can help determine your personal health statistics such as your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A simple blood test can provide valuable information and help you identify what strategies you can implement to improve your heart health and reduce your risk for heart disease.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.