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A Heart Health Handbook

February is National Heart Month, and for good reason. One in three women are diagnosed with cardiovascular disease at some point in their lives, and it is the most prominent health risk for all Americans. Placing a special focus on heart health this month will help older adults live a healthier lifestyle for the rest of the year.

Cardiovascular Disease Overview

What is it? 

The main goal of heart health is to avoid cardiovascular disease, which includes any condition that affects the heart or blood vessels. The most common heart disease, known as Coronary Artery Disease, affects blood flow to the heart, which can trigger a heart attack. Heart diseases can be fatal, and are the cause of 1 in every 4 deaths in the U.S. Luckily, they’re preventable and can be avoided.

How can someone know if they’re at risk? 

Half of Americans have at least one of the three main risk factors for heart disease, which are smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Besides these three main risk factors, there are many other things that can lead to heart disease.

  1. Smoking: Smoking is a main risk factor because it damages the heart and blood vessels, but nicotine products also raise blood pressure. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke is also dangerous, since it reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry.
  2. High blood pressure: High blood pressure is often called a “silent killer” because it has no symptoms, but it is a major risk to the heart, brain, and liver.
  3. High cholesterol: Most of our cholesterol comes from the foods we eat. It’s the main cause of plaque buildup in the arteries, which restricts blood flow. Obesity can affect cholesterol levels, so maintaining a healthy level of body fat is important.
  4. Diabetes: Diabetes causes sugar buildup in blood, which affects its flow. Those with diabetes are at a higher risk than those without it.
  5. Genetics: Genetics may play a role in heart disease, so if someone’s parents or family members have a history of heart disease, they should be extra alert for it.

How can people prevent heart disease?

Besides medicine, the best way to decrease your risk of heart disease is to make lifestyle changes.

Firstly, diet plays a big role in heart disease. Foods with high amounts of saturated and trans fats are dangerous, as are foods with high cholesterol. Additionally, sodium can raise blood pressure as well. Eating less processed fast foods and shifting to a balanced diet will do wonders for heart health. Plus, cooking is a great hobby if you’re looking for new skills to learn! 

Secondly, lifestyle plays a big part in heart health. Staying active is great for the heart and prevents many of the risk factors, such as obesity. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help your heart health. Decreasing substance consumption, like alcohol and nicotine, will also help. Both alcohol and nicotine have dangerous effects on blood pressure.

No matter what, you should try to visit the doctor regularly. Many of the risk factors don’t cause immediate symptoms, so consulting a doctor can catch those signs early on. The goal of National Heart Month is to help people be aware of the risks, so get checkups often and stay healthy!

Additional Resources

  1. CDC page on heart disease
  2. Harvard Medical School page on heart health
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