Improve Your Heart Health During Heart Month

February is Heart Month, a time when all Americans are encouraged to focus on their cardiovascular health.

The Facts on Heart Disease

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the number one cause of death in North Dakota.  It’s a problem not only in our state, but across the country. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2020 — 1 in every 5 deaths.

Many U.S. adults have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or use tobacco. Diabetes, being overweight or obese, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol and/or illegal drug use can all increase your risk of heart attack or even heart failure.

For women, the statistics are even more sobering. More women die of heart disease than from every kind of cancer combined.

Small Steps to Take

There are multiple ways to improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your chances of heart disease. While it might seem like an overwhelming task, these small steps are easy to incorporate, and even fun.

Here are some recommendations from the American Heart Association’s Million Hearts® initiative and the CDC Foundation:

A good place to start is by making an appointment with your health care provider. If you haven’t been on track with your yearly exams, you’re not alone; many people postponed preventive and wellness visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Heart health is a great reason to schedule an appointment today.

During your visit, your health care provider will check your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. Based on the results, they’ll help you create a heart-health plan that includes:

    • Creating goals for healthy eating and exercise.
    • Advice for changes to make now, like quitting tobacco.
    • Prescribing new medicine or updating your current prescriptions.
    • Connecting you with specialists to help treat heart problems and other conditions they may identify.

Movement is one of the best ways to improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease or heart attack. Increasing your physical activity can strengthen your heart muscle, lower your weight and even prevent artery damage. A new exercise program might feel like a big job, but you can begin with small steps here too, such as:

    • Schedule just ten minutes a day to start, especially if you’ve been inactive.
    • Find an exercise pal to join you during an online class or for outside walks.
    • Chores count! Cleaning your home, raking, gardening and other tasks contribute to your exercise goals.
    • Focus on resistance training, flexibility AND cardiovascular exercise to achieve maximum benefit as you move.

Aging can make exercise feel even harder, but remember, even a 10-minute walk has real health benefits.

Not sure how much exercise you need? Check out the What’s Your Move? fact sheet for older adults from the Move Your Way® initiative.

A better diet doesn’t have to include a complete lifestyle overhaul. There are a lot of small changes that can pay off in big ways when it comes to your heart. The most important thing to remember is to find good dietary habits that work for you. Consider some of these ideas:

    • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
    • Cut down on sodium (salt). Make sure you check the nutrition labels, especially on processed foods. The CDC recommends less than 2,300 mg per day.
    • Choose heart-healthy fats like avocado, olive oil and nuts.
    • Cut down on fatty meats and full-fat dairy.

Your kids can start now to create a lifetime of heart-healthy habits. Include your family in your heart health plan and encourage them to create plans of their own. Make sure everyone is preventive and wellness visits are up to date.

Start Small. Live Big.

Created by the CDC Foundation and the Million Hearts® initiative, Heart-Healthy Steps encourages all of us to get motivated and take small steps – like scheduling medical appointments, getting active and eating healthy – so we can get back to living big. These heart-healthy tips are even more important if you’re 55 or older.