American Heart Month occurs in February every year to raise awareness for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Heart disease includes a wide range of conditions, such as atherosclerosis, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.
A healthy diet, exercise, and quitting smoking may lower your risk of heart disease.
You may find yourself expressing love to your favorite people this month. But February is also a great time to show your own heart some love. February is American Heart Month.
In this post, we’ll look at why heart health is so important, common risk factors for heart disease, and what you can do to improve your heart.
American Heart Month is a celebration that happens in February every year. It’s the time of year when organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) shine a spotlight on heart disease.
It’s celebrated in February because that’s when former President Lyndon B. Johnson established it in 1964. But the fact that Valentine’s Day also falls in February may help you remember to take care of your heart.
More Americans die of heart disease than any other disease in the U.S. Heart disease is the term used to describe many heart health problems. Some examples include:
Atherosclerosis/coronary artery disease (CAD): The buildup of a fatty substance called plaque in your arteries
Atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF): An irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to stroke, blood clots, or heart failure
Cardiomyopathy: The name for several diseases of the heart muscle that cause it to enlarge, thicken, beat irregularly, or stiffen and scar
Heart failure: When your heart doesn’t pump blood to the rest of the body as well as it should
Valvular disease: When any of your heart’s valves become damaged or diseased
Heart disease, particularly atherosclerosis, can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Hypertension — or high blood pressure — is a key risk factor for heart disease.
Take a look at these U.S. statistics to better understand why heart health is so important:
Close to 2,400 Americans die of heart disease each day.
More than 400 Americans die of stroke each day.
Almost half of all American adults have heart disease.
More than 116 million Americans have high blood pressure.
Even though heart disease affects millions of Americans, many people don’t know they have it. Often, the first sign of heart disease is a heart attack. But you don’t have to wait for a heart attack to make heart-healthy changes. Below, you’ll find four lifestyle changes you can make to improve your heart health.
There are many ways that you can improve your heart health. Here are four strategies to get you started.
It should come as no surprise that exercise is good for your heart. It’s an activity that has many benefits. Exercise:
Lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure
Helps you sleep better
Helps you maintain a healthy weight
Protects you from other chronic health conditions
Improves your quality of life and well-being
Physical activity provides the most benefit when you do it on a regular basis. The American Heart Association recommends:
Exercising at a moderate pace for 150 minutes a week — 30 minutes, 5 days a week — or exercising at a high intensity for 75 minutes a week
Working out with resistance bands or weights at least 2 days a week
Taking exercise breaks instead of sitting to watch TV or scrolling through social media
Increasing your activity level gradually to 300 minutes a week when you’re ready
Raising your intensity level over time, like going from walking to jogging or squatting without weights to squatting with weights
Your diet plays an important role in your heart’s health. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has developed a heart-healthy eating plan. It recommends that you fill your plate with nutritious foods, such as:
Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
Canned fruit packed in its own juice rather than syrup or added sugar
Dried fruit without added sugar
Canned vegetables without added salt
Whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta
Chicken and turkey without skin
Lean meats and fish
Beans and peas
Nuts and seeds
Fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
The AHA also recommends:
Eating fewer processed foods
Drinking little to no alcohol
Avoiding saturated fats
At a routine checkup, your healthcare provider will check for risk factors that may impact your heart health. Your checkup may include:
Taking your blood pressure
Stepping on a scale or measuring your waist to get your body weight
Checking your cholesterol with a blood test
Taking a blood glucose test
Talking about lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or increasing physical activity
One of the best ways to take care of your heart is to quit smoking. Cigarette smoke can damage your heart. It can also harm the blood vessels that deliver oxygen to your heart. Quitting has immediate and future benefits. For example:
Your heart rate drops to a healthier level 20 minutes after you stop smoking.
Your heart and organs start to get more oxygen 12 hours after you quit smoking.
Your risk of stroke drops to that of a lifetime nonsmoker within 4 years of quitting.
There are many treatments for quitting smoking, like nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Talk to your healthcare provider about your options.
American Heart Month in February is a great time to learn more about your heart’s health. Think about visiting your healthcare provider to check your blood pressure and heart health. Ask for ways to improve your diet and exercise routine. If you smoke, talk to your provider about ways to quit. Make this your year to boost your heart health.
American Heart Association. (n.d.). American Heart Association.
American Heart Association. (2016). What is atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF)?
American Heart Association. (2017). What is heart failure?
American Heart Association. (2018). American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids.
American Heart Association. (2019). Cardiovascular diseases affect nearly half of American adults, statistics show.
American Heart Association. (2019). Heart-health screenings.
American Heart Association. (2021). The American Heart Association diet and lifestyle recommendations.
American Heart Association. (2021). U.S. commemorates 57th consecutive American Heart Month in February.
The American Presidency Project. (n.d.). Proclamation 3566 — American Heart Month, 1964.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Cardiomyopathy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Valvular heart disease.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). About heart disease.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Coronary artery disease (CAD).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Heart disease and stroke.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2013). Heart healthy eating plan.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Want to quit smoking? FDA-approved products can help.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). How smoking affects heart health.
Virani, S. S., et al. (2021). Heart disease and stroke statistics—2021 update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation.
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