It’s very appropriate that during the month in which we celebrate love with the image of heart-shaped valentines posted virtually everywhere we look, we would also be focused on the health of the heart itself—the real one that quietly beats away inside us every minute of every day.
February is heart month, so it’s the perfect time to put some of our attention on that busy little pump and fight back against heart disease and stroke.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular disease is the leading case of death in the United States. Likewise, the British Heart Foundation claims that coronary heart disease is the United Kingdom’s biggest killer, with heart and circulatory diseases causing more than a quarter of all deaths. In Canada, someone dies of heart disease or stroke every 7 minutes, according to Statistic Canada, 2011.
While this all sounds very dire, the good new is that heart disease is preventable and manageable. According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation the key is to control the risk factors that could lead to coronary artery disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and being overweight.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation also suggests that you can further reduce your risk by considering these heart-healthy steps:
- Be smoke-free.
- Be physically active.
- Know and control your blood pressure.
- Eat a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fat.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage your diabetes.
- Limit alcohol use.
- Reduce stress.
- Visit your doctor regularly and follow your doctor’s advice.
February is also a good time to consider learning a little bit about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which is an emergency procedure designed to restart a heart that has stopped beating during cardiac arrest. This 30-second video that explains the basics of hand-only CPR could help you, or someone you love, in an emergency situation one day.
In case you’re worried that heart-healthy meals won’t be enjoyable—or even palatable—have a look at the huge list of delicious, heart-friendly recipes compiled by the Mayo Clinic. You may rethink that position after checking out the glazed turkey breast with fruit stuffing, honey-crusted chicken, polenta with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, or apple-blueberry cobbler!
Every healthy change you make, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. Encourage your family and friends to make good choices too, and do it together. Share healthy recipes, start a walking group, take a CPR class together or accompany a reluctant friend to a doctor’s appointment for moral support. Not only is there strength in numbers, it’s also nice to work together to protect all the hearts you love.
For a heart-healthy eating guide featuring a meal planner, mix and match food group chart and kid-friendly recipes visit The Heart & Stroke Foundation. For a comprehensive list of stroke, heart attack and cardiac arrest warning signs, visit The American Heart Association.
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