February is American Heart Month!

February is recognized as American Heart Month which highlights the importance of cardiovascular health and prevalence of heart disease in the United States. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women, and knowing the risk factors can be the first step towards heart healthy living. The risk factors for heart disease, as outlined by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, are as follows:

  • Hypertension (having high blood pressure)

  • High cholesterol

  • Overweight/Obesity

  • Prediabetes or Diabetes

  • Smoking

  • Sedentary Lifestyle (lack of exercise)

  • Family history of heart disease

  • History of preeclampsia

  • Poor diet

  • Age of 55 or older for women and 45 or older for men

Having more than one risk factor increases your chances of developing heart disease. Although some risk factors cannot be changed, such as age or family history, it is important to talk to your doctor about screening for heart disease and modifying the risk factors that are within your control, such as physical activity, diet, and smoking habits.

When making lifestyle changes, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start or what changes need to be made. When it comes to physical activity, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. It is okay to start small and work your way towards a more consistent exercise routine.

A good first step could be walking in place during commercial breaks of your favorite tv show or making a point to walk around for 5-10 minutes every hour. Once you have established making a point to partake in some sort of physical activity regularly, building on the difficulty and time frame of that activity may become easier.

Another lifestyle modification that can lower your risk of heart disease is adopting what is known as a heart healthy diet. The main focus of this diet is to limit unnecessary sources of saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. A good first step in identifying foods that contain the items listed above would be to understand how to properly read a product's food label. A good resource for understanding the layout of a food label can be found on the FDA's website listed below:

How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label | FDA

Once you have grasped the concept of how to properly read a food label, you can start to make choices based on the components listed in that particular product. For example, you will begin to notice most products high in saturated fat usually come from animal sources, such as butter or cheese. Replacing these items with more plant based foods, such as olive oil or canola oil, or consuming these items in moderate amounts (less than 10% of daily food choices) can help reduce unnecessary fats found in your diet. Removing the skin from meats as well as other fatty portions and using preparation methods that help reduce fat content, such as baking vs frying, can also help reduce the amount of fat in your diet. Aim for sources of fat in the diet that are known to support heart health, such as olive oil, nuts, fatty fish, and seeds.

Sodium is another element to be on the look our for on a product's food label when it comes to a heart healthy diet. It is recommended that adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a

day. This can often be difficult as sodium is a common food additive in most processed food items. To reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, you should choose foods that are labeled "No Salt Added" or "Low Sodium". A great reference is look for items that have less than 480 mg of sodium per serving. Choosing fresh or frozen food items over canned versions can also help cut the amount of sodium in your diet. For more information on a heart healthy diet, you can visit the National Institute of Health's website that is listed below:

Heart-Healthy Living | NHLBI, NIH

Other factors that can be discussed with your doctor in regards to lowering your risk for heart disease can include smoking cessation, weight and stress management, as well as sleep patterns. If you have particular concerns regarding your diet and its connection to heart health, you can also reach out to a Registered Dietitian in your area.

Getting screened and understanding your risks for heart disease is the first step in heart healthy living. With February being recognized as American Heart Month, now is a great time to focus on your own personal risk of heart disease as well as supporting and encouraging others who are making changes to establish a heart healthy lifestyle.

For further study, you can visit the websites below:

7 Strategies to Live a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle | CDC

American Heart Association | To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives

Heart Health Tips for Men (

Heart Health for Women (

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