A healthy heart is a happy heart, and it just so happens that February is National Heart Month in the US and UK. Every year, more 800,000 people in the US alone die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) – that’s one in every three deaths. And the figures are much the same per population in the UK, which means it is a great time to devote a few hours during the month of February to focus on our cardiovascular health.
From understanding what our risk factors may be, to how to reduce them, with the right knowledge we can all take action to improve the health of our heart. And don’t forget to encourage those around you to do so too.
Diseases of the heart
CVD is the umbrella term for all types of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels – of which there are many different kinds. But the four main types of CVD are coronary heart disease, strokes and transient ischaemic attack (TIA or ‘mini-stroke’), peripheral arterial disease and aortic disease. They each have their own symptoms and implications, but are all typically due to a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries of the heart causing blockages, decreased blood flow and an increased risk of blood clots.
There’s no question that CVD has been on the rise over the past 20 to 30 years, due to a number of issues impacting on society. By and large we live a more sedentary life, and our diets include a lot of fats, sugars and salt – all contributing risk factors for heart disease. This has led to a global obesity issue, with being overweight affecting 39 percent of the adult population (and 13 percent of those classified as obese).
High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the leading causes of CVD, where blood flows at a higher-than-normal pressure and causes hardening and/or thickening of the arteries, damaging blood vessels and causing bad cholesterol to build in tears along the artery walls. What’s perhaps most alarming is that one in three US adults don’t even know they have high blood pressure (which is why it is also known as the ‘silent killer’).
From online events and webinars, to wearing red on Friday the 4th of February (National Wear Red Day), serving up a heart healthy meal for a loved one on Valentines Day and learning about how mental health and stress can affect your heart – there’s lots happening during National Heart Month.
The Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention is choosing to shine a light on hypertension (high blood pressure) this year, due to it being a leading risk factor for heart disease and strokes.
And from February 7th till the 14th, it’s Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) awareness week. Worldwide more than 1.3 million babies are born each year with a CHD, but due to a lack of education and understanding, research in this area is often underfunded. To raise money, and awareness of CHD, a number of organisations hold fundraising events like charity races, heart walks and informational seminars. So check out all that action here, on either Mended Little Hearts or The Children’s Heart Foundation.
During the month of February there are many ways in which you can support the efforts of the British Heart Foundation.
And in the US, why not join #OurHearts – an organisation that aims to inspire heart healthy behaviour by focusing on social networks to encourage and motivate each other. As research shows it makes things like getting regular exercise, reducing stress and quitting smoking a lot easier.
Ways to help your heart
Heart disease is largely preventable.
Behavioural risk factors like smoking, an unhealthy diet, being overweight, minimal physical activity and a high alcohol intake all contribute to cardiovascular problems, and greatly increase your morbidity risk from heart disease. Which is actually good news, because it means there are plenty of ways in which you can choose a lifestyle that significantly reduces your chance of experiencing heart disease.
Of course there are some risk factors that are unavoidable – such as a family history of heart disease, having diabetes, age, ethnicity and gender. But prevention is still possible via the following steps:
- Quitting smoking
- Having a balanced diet (in particular, lowering the consumption of saturated fat, salt and sugar).
- Exercising regularly.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Reducing your alcohol consumption.
- Minimising stress.
- Managing occurrences of depression.
It’s also important to get regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks, as these can significantly contribute to your risk of heart disease. The lifestyle changes above can also be supported by medication, to help lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Let 2022 be the year that we pay attention to the ways in which we can improve the health of our hearts. Get on board National Heart Month and play your part in reducing the number of deaths related to heart disease every year – you could save a colleague, friend, family member, loved one… or even yourself.