Why is American Heart Month So Important?
You might already know that February is American Heart Month. After all, it’s your body’s most amazing muscle!
Life is busy and it can be all to easy to get lost in the plethora of awareness events that are celebrated year-round. While all of these are worthy of your time and acknowledgement, we’d encourage you to stop and take an extra close look at what makes American Heart Month so important.
Our Nation’s Number One Killer
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for Americans, accounting for about 1 in 4 of our nation’s deaths. Almost half of our population has at least one risk factor for heart disease. These include:
- Physical inactivity
- Unhealthy diet
- High blood pressure
While heart disease is leading cause of death for both men and women, stroke is also high on the list, claiming the place of fifth leading cause of death in the United States. All things considered, cardiovascular conditions represent an extremely costly health problem for our country. They account for a whopping $320 billion annually in health care and related expenses.
Even if it doesn’t kill you, heart disease can have a serious impact on your life. Right now, over 85.6 million people (or 1 in 3 adults!) have at least one type of cardiovascular disease. Every year, heart attack and stroke cause:
- Serious illness
- Decreased quality of life
- Hundreds of billions in economic loss
Can Heart Disease Be Prevented?
Don’t feel too down just yet! Though the numbers are discouraging, heart disease and stroke are also extremely preventable.
Here are the leading controllable risk factors for the two:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Cigarette smoking
- Unhealthy diet and physical inactivity
It is easy to point toward the fact that we feel fine, or to say we’ll “start tomorrow.” But these risk factors cause changes in the heart and blood vessels over time. Slowly (and sometimes not so slowly!) but surely, this damage can lead to:
- Heart attacks
- Heart failure
Prevention is unfortunately easier said than done. It’s difficult to lose weight or quit smoking. About 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure, and only half of them have it under control. Even though high sodium intake is known to increase blood pressure–and thereby the risk of heart disease and stroke–about 90% of Americans exceed their daily recommendation for sodium intake.
What Can You Do For Your Loved Ones?
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m already physically active, eat healthily, and don’t smoke. But I wish I could help my mother!”
Since risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke also increases with age, it is especially important to talk with older loved ones about prevention.
Of course, it’s a delicate subject. Typically people respond better to gentle encouragement than judgements regarding their weight or the demand that they stop smoking immediately. Here are some ways you can help:
1) Make physical activity fun!
Staying fit doesn’t mean you have to become a marathoner or even lift weights at the gym. Go for a walk around the neighborhood before a family dinner, organize a family hike, or try a new physically active hobby together. Aim for at least 150 minutes of weekly physical activity.
2) Find ways to incorporate more healthy food options
Hungry after the hike? Take that healthy momentum into your next meal! Check out Pinterest for fun healthy recipes. Make small substitutions; for example, suggest two different vegetable-based sides instead of one side of veggies and a batch of buttery dinner rolls. Remember to always keep things positive and make sure Mom knows you still love her baked goods!
3) Show your support
Don’t nag or be harsh when it comes to smoking. If you have a loved one who smokes, make sure they know how much you care about them. Have an honest but kind heart-to-heart (pun intended!). Studies show that someone who feels supported is more likely to quit.
4) See how they’re doing
Ask your loved ones if they’re having their blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly checked by a doctor or other healthcare provider. If they’re on a medication to control their risk factors, help them set a reminder alarm on their phone and make sure they have a pillbox with the days of the week on it.
5) Have a conversation about heart health this month
Even though we encourage small steps and gentle nudges, having an open conversation is a good way to let that family member know you respect them and aren’t hiding your intentions to help their health!
Heart disease and stroke have hit epidemic proportions in the United States. These conditions shouldn’t have such an impact on our lives and they don’t have to. You can take back control of your health and make improvements to your everyday lifestyle.
Why not get started with something after you’re done reading this?
Help us spread awareness in our communities for American Heart Month this year. Using your favorite social media platform, it’s not difficult to share interesting facts and statistics with friends and family. Together, we can all make a difference that’s good for our hearts!