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February is Heart Month, a great time to learn more about your heart and how to keep it healthy. We also celebrate Go Red for Women Day on Friday, February 7. It’s a day to wear red and raise awareness about cardiovascular disease in women. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease can happen at any age; it’s not just something that happens to older adults. One in three women die of heart disease and stroke each year – more than breast cancer and all cancers combined. The CDC also says that half of all Americans are at risk for heart disease because of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or smoking.

What it Means to GO RED

G: Get your numbers. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s one way to gauge your heart health.

O: Own your lifestyle. Your health is up to you!

R: Realize your risk factors. 

E: Educate yourself and your family. As women, our behavior can impact family members.

D: Don’t be silent. Tell other women about the importance of heart health.

Risk Factors

As mentioned above, the top risk factors are smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. However, there are other things can put your heart health at risk too…

  • Obesity: carrying extra weight puts stress on the heart.
  • Being inactive: Johns Hopkins University calls it “sitting disease.” Between long commutes and sedentary jobs, we’re not moving as much as our ancestors. A study in 2015 found that a lack of physical activity increases our risk for blood clots, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other heart-related problems. 
  • What we eat: Culprits include too much sodium (which can increase blood pressure), saturated fats (which raise cholesterol), trans fats and sugar (which causes inflammation). 
  • Stress
  • Not enough sleep: Lack of sleep can put you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, no matter your age or other health habits. One study found that those who slept less than six hours a night were twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack.  
  • Diabetes

What Does a Healthy Heart Look Like? 

A healthy heart is a strong muscle about the size of your fist. It has four chambers with four one-way valves that open and close to ensure the blood flows through in one direction. It allows blood to be refreshed with oxygen from the lungs and then pumped through the arteries to carry that oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body to nourish cells. Your veins carry blood back to the heart to start the cycle all over again. 

What Your Body Can Tell You

Because the heart pumps blood to all areas of the body, there are some clues that your body can provide to indicate there might be heart trouble. However, these symptoms can also indicate other health issues that aren’t heart-related. It’s best to make an appointment with your YourTown Health provider who can look at the big picture – including your total health and family medical history – and decide.

  • Chest pain: Uncomfortable pressure, fullness or squeezing-like pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness, fatigue, nausea or indigestion: Pay attention to symptoms like these that don’t appear to have an easy-to-identify cause (like gas station sushi).
  • Swollen or bleeding gums
  • Jaw pain, back pain or shoulder pain that appears without a physical cause. 
  • Snoring
  • Erectile disfunction
  • Puffy or swollen legs

5 Tips for Heart Health

  1. Get an annual checkup to assess your heart health. Make sure to go over your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers with your health provider. Have a conversation about your lifestyle, your family history, your stress level and any random symptoms you may be having – like bleeding gums – even if you’re not sure if they’re related to heart health.
  2. Quit smoking. Your RMC health provider can help you quit.
  3. Get moving for 150 minutes per week. According to Go Red for Women, physical activity can reduce heart disease by 30%-40% and reduce stroke by 25%. It can also help relieve stress and insomnia.
  4. Eat less “nutrient-poor” foods. The American Heart Association recommends limiting food and beverages that are high in calories but low in nutrients.
  5. Find a health partner. It can be a family member, a co-worker or a Facebook friend – someone who can help you be accountable for sticking with a plan of healthy eating and physical activity.

Want more tips to help you maintain a healthy heart? Schedule your visit to YourTown Health today!