American Heart Month observed

Have you ever had a heart attack? Or maybe someone in your family has. How about a friend? Fellow worker? Or maybe another kind of cardiac disease?

Chances are your answer is “yes.” Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, one in four deaths each year is attributable to heart disease. Contrary to what had been a long-standing belief, it happens to women with regularity. It can happen at any age. It can happen to any one, regardless of ethnicity.

February is American Heart Month. That designation began in 1963. Actually each month should be a heart month. But it is at this particular time each year that physicians, public health professionals, researchers and volunteers sound a clarion call to the public to become educated about lifestyle choices and following healthy habits. Basic tenets of their message would be: don’t smoke, don’t eat bad food and try to get some exercise on a regular basis. Know the warning signs and symptoms. Also get periodic check-ups. Get educated about what causes heart disease. Know your family history.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 610,00 people die of heart disease yearly in the United States. Coronary heart disease is the most common, killing over 370,000 annually. Each year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack: 525,000 being a first heart attack and 210,000 being repeat heart attacks. About 47 percent of sudden heart attacks, according to the CDC, occur outside of a hospital. This suggests that many with heart disease don’t act early on warning signs. These would include chest pain or discomfort; upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach; and, shortness of breath.

The good news in all of this is it’s really not too late to start leading a more healthy diet and lifestyle. Moderation in food consumption is one key to becoming healthier. Cutting some calories and just eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole-grain foods, can go a long way in helping someone feel better. It’s important to remember, too, that fad diets and radical changes aren’t always the best route for someone wanting to improve his or her health. The best advice is staying the course with a long-term heart-healthy food regimen.

Also important for a healthy heart is taking part in some physical activity. Even walking 20 to 30 minutes each day brings many benefits and gets your heart pumping. We have a great community center in town. We have nature trails. Use them. Remember that increased physical activity and eating healthier may help bring blood pressure and blood sugar readings down as well as improve mental well-being.

We should remember, too, that smoking — a real no-brainer here — is a major risk for heart disease and strokes. Smoking can block the blood flow and oxygen to the brain, and even secondhand smoking is dangerous and increases a person’s risk for a heart attack, AHA officials have said. We’re asking area residents to become more conscious of their heart health. Start today with small steps and make it last throughout the year. If you need some encouragement and direction, contact your doctor. There are programs and guidance available through local hospitals. Go online to credible resources and become informed. Do your heart a favor and lead a healthier way of life. You will feel so much better for not ending up as just another statistic.