February is here and so are hearts and pink and red decorations in anticipation of Valentine’s day. Going along with the holiday of hearts and love it only makes sense that February is National Heart Health Month and today is National Wear Red Day! What’s National Wear Red Day you ask? It’s the day to get the word out about heart health to raise awareness and motivate people to incorporate heart healthy practices into their lives in order to avoid becoming a statistic
- Did you know Cardiovascular Disease is the #1 cause of death in America? …It’s the #1 cause of death for both men and women
- 1 in 3 people will die of cardiovascular disease
- Cardiovascular Disease kills more people than all forms of cancer combined
- 85.6 million Americans are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke
- Heart disease includes any condition that affects the heart such as arrhythmia’s (irregular rhythm), valve or muscle problems, and any congenital defect(s) you may have been born with.
- Cardiovascular Disease is an umbrella term for any disease that affects the blood vessels such as stroke, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis the #1 cause of heart disease and is the hardening of the arteries* due to a buildup of plaque*. Plaque hardens and narrows the arteries making it harder for the blood to flow through- if a blood clot forms, this can lead to a blockage resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
*arteries: blood vessels coming from the heart that carry oxygenated blood
*Plaque: made of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood).
Need more clarification on atherosclerosis? Think of a garden hose without a nozzle- a normal garden hose represents healthy arteries- when you allow water to flow freely from the hose the flow is smooth and even but when you put your finger over the end of the spout or create a kink in the line, the water has a harder time getting out and the stream gets more strong and powerful- great when you want to squirt your friends with the hose- not so great when we are talking about blood in your arteries. You want your blood to be moving steady and smooth not putting stress on your blood vessels, but when plaque develops (i.e. your finger covering the spout or putting a kink in to make the hose narrower) the blood has to push harder to get through, causing damage over time.
Ok… so. What causes Cardiovascular & Heart Disease?
- Unhealthy diet
- Being overweight or obese
- Physical inactivity
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Diabetes and pre-diabetes
- Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
- Age (55 or older for women)
Unfortunately we are unable to change our age or genetics, but this is just a small piece of the heart disease puzzle- a majority of the risk factors above involve things in your life you have control over- diet, exercise, weight, whether you smoke or not… therefore…
HEART DISEASE IS PREVENTABLE!
- Eating a heart-healthy diet… everything I preach! Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meats, heart healthy fats (oils, avocado, nuts), cutting down on sugar, white flour, avoiding heavy butter/cream sauces and gravies and large amounts of saturated (bad) fats.
- Exercise! In addition to eating well, I really can’t stress enough how important it is to MOVE… not only does it help you maintain/lose weight, it increases your HDL (good cholesterol), regulates blood sugar, helps prevent bone loss, gives you endorphins to make you feel good and aids in better sleep… I encourage everyone who is healthy enough to lift weights and really get their heart rate pumping as much as they can- that being said, the *minimum* amount of daily activity you should be getting is 20 minutes… whether that’s a 20 minute walk all at once, or broken up through the day, physical activity and moving your body is essential.
- A healthy diet and physical activity lead to… maintaining a healthy body weight! Healthy body weight goes hand in hand with healthy blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels and decreased risk of diabetes… it’s a domino affect- get your weight in check through diet and exercise and everything else should (ideally) fall into place.
- Not smoking. Hopefully you don’t smoke, but if you do quit. NOW. Not only will quitting decrease your chances of heart disease and stroke, but also cancer and chronic lung disease… you’ll have the same risk level for developing heart disease as non-smokers within a few years! Need even more of a reason to quit? Seeing as it’s February/Valentine’s Day and we are talking about ~*hearts* & *love*~ a Match.com poll showed 58% of people would “absolutely not” date a smoker and 22% of people would “probably not” date a smoker. Not only will you be helping your heart… but potentially your love life as well!
Know the signs & symptoms
Unfortunately, the statistics stand… 1 in 3 people will die of Heart Disease… it’s important to know the signs and symptoms so you can help yourself or a loved one if something happens. We are taught that chest pain is the universal sign of a heart attack, but there are other symptoms as well, especially in women…
Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- Chest pain (angina)
- Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or lower back *these are especially common symptoms in women*
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea & extreme fatigue
F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke
- Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
- Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
- Time to Call: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.
Feeling a little more informed? I hope so. Yes, it’s nice to work out and eat well for reasons of vanity and feeling confident when you rock your spandex but healthy diet and exercise are more than that- they’re essential for maintaining overall health and keeping your heart strong, remember that! <3