Thursday, February 2, 2012

Love your Heart!

With Valentine's Day less than two weeks away, we are all seeing red with hearts, roses, and balloons everywhere we turn. While we all associate the heart symbol with love, romance, and boxes filled with mystery chocolates, the heart also symbolizes that vital, life-sustaining organ that works tirelessly to keep us here. So when you’re unwrapping that delicious heart-shaped dark Dove chocolate wondering what little message will be revealed on the inside of the pink foil wrapper, take a moment as you indulge in that chocolate to think about your own heart. It’s something we seldom do. But this month, let’s think of our hearts as our body’s employee of the month (as February is America’s Heart Month), and perhaps we can make some lifestyle modifications, and take preventative action to help keep it ticking longer and more efficiently.
The American Heart Association is always on a mission to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. As we all know, heart disease is the leading killer of women, which is why it’s so important for us to take the month of February to learn about cardiovascular disease, spread awareness about what we can do to prevent it, and honor those we’ve lost because of it.
We can thank St. Valentine for reminding us to not only express our love for others, but to also to focus some much needed attention on our own hearts and show them the care they require to be healthy. Let’s show others love this month, but let’s show our own hearts some too!

In honor of National Heart Month, here are a few helpful facts about cardiovascular disease, and tips on how to manage stress and improve your heart health.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is heart disease?
Heart disease – also called cardiovascular disease – is a simple term used to describe several problems related to plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow and creating a risk for heart attack or stroke. Other types of heart disease include heart failure, an irregular heartbeat – or arrhythmia – and heart valve problems.

For more information, visit the American Heart Association’s website:

Now that we know what cardiovascular disease is, here are 7 simple preventative rules to live by.

Life’s Simple 7

Get Active
We all know that exercise is good for us, but nearly 70% of Americans do not get the physical activity they need.
Nearly all of us feel time-crunched and over-scheduled. And although anyone can fall into a busyness trap, only you can make your health a priority over life’s other demands. Even our nation’s President sets aside time to exercise. It can be done and only you can say ‘no’ to interruptions and ‘yes’ to your good health!

Control Cholesterol
When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. Cholesterol is a waxy substance and our bodies use it to make cell membranes and some hormones, but when you have too much bad cholesterol (LDL), it combines with white blood cells and forms plaque in your veins and arteries. These blockages lead to heart disease and stroke.

Eat Better
A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. When you eat a heart-healthy diet (foods low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, and foods high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables) you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy– for life! However, an alarmingly high number of us are not making healthy food choices. Recent studies show that more than 90% of us fail to consistently eat a heart-healthy diet. Our poor eating habits mean more of us have risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.

Manage Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer.

By keeping your blood pressure in the healthy range, you are:
1. Reducing your risk of overstretched or injured blood vessel walls
2. Reducing your risk of blockages which also protects your heart and brain
3. Protecting your entire body so that your tissue receives regular supplies of blood that is rich in the oxygen it needs

Lose Weight
If you're overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk for heart disease by successfully losing weight and keeping it off. Even losing as few as five or ten pounds can produce a dramatic blood pressure reduction.

Reduce Blood Sugar
Lowered blood sugar helps protect your vital organs. When you reduce excessive sugars, you are giving yourself the best chance for a healthy life. The American Heart Association considers diabetes one of the six major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. When insulin resistance or diabetes occur along with other CVD risk factors (such as obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and high triglycerides), the risk of heart disease and stroke rises even more.

Stop Smoking
If you want to live a long and healthy life, breaking the nicotine addiction will be very important. Smoking damages your entire circulatory system, and increases your risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysm and blood clots. Like a line of tumbling dominoes, one risk creates another. Blood clots and hardened arteries increase your risks for heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease. Smoking can also reduce your good cholesterol (HDL) and your lung capacity, making it harder to get the physical activity you need for better health.

I hope these tips from the American Heart Association’s website were helpful. Happy Heart Month, and remember to wear red tomorrow for National Wear Red Day and spread awareness about this disease!

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