February isn't just all about red plastic heart decorations for Valentines Day. It's also a great month to raise awareness about heart health, and prevent heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in Americans. That's more deaths than those caused by cancer, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
February means cold weather for many in the US, and that means many people stay indoors, get less physical activity, and we tend to want to eat more of the things that aren't exactly healthy for us. Chocolate and wine are actually good for you in moderation (we'll tell you more about that!), but many of the "comfort foods" we tend to gravitate toward can be very unhealthy, and bad for our hearts.
So February is actually a good time to raise awareness and make sure we're taking care of our hearts, other than the fact that hearts represent Valentines Day! What are the things you can start doing, or remind yourself to do right now, to make sure we take care of our hearts?
What puts me at risk?
Learn about the risks of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease and high blood pressure fall under this category, as well as strokes. It's largely preventable with diet and lifestyle changes, and men are more likely than women to die from cardiovascular disease. Genetics can also play a role in developing CVD, you’re more likely to develop the disease if you have a close relative who has struggled with the disease. Make sure to speak with your doctor to find out about what other factors may put you at greater risk for CVD.
How can I help prevent it?
Keep up with your regular check-ups. Your physician can check for things such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which put you at risk for CVD. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, keep them well under control.
You should also get your cholesterol checked regularly. Between physicals, keep a close eye on your blood pressure at home. Your doctor can show you how to do this.
Adopt a healthy diet that will take care of your heart. This would involve cutting out foods full of trans fats. Avoid fast foods and many other restaurant foods, as well as red meat. Processed foods that are full of sodium should also be eliminated almost completely from your diet. Whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies and lean proteins should make up the majority of your diet. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids are best for maintaining good cardiovascular health. And chocolate? Eat some dark chocolate (the higher the percentage of cocao the better) for some delicious antioxidants.
Get regular exercise. The US Surgeon General recommends that most adults get 150 minutes per week of exercise. Get your blood pumping 4 times a week for 40 minutes, or 5 times a week for 30 minutes to reach this goal. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.
Quit smoking! Smoking tobacco is terrible for your cardiovascular health.
Limit your alcohol intake. Remember the mention of wine actually being good for you? According to the Mayo Clinic's website, one glass of red wine a day (no more) helps to prevent damage to blood vessels and helps raise the “good” cholesterol in the body. Other than that, you should limit your overal alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day, to prevent damage to your cardiovascular system.