Love your heart this February

Bobby Stewart, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 1/30/2016, 12:27 p.m.
A group of small steps to take care of arguably the most important part of your body.
Bobby Stewart

In 2015, President Obama declared February as American Heart Month with the goal of raising awareness of the importance of having a healthy heart. Cardiac disease is the leading cause of death in America. One out of four people die because of heart disease – that amounts to 610,000 people who die every year. And, statistically, more men than women die of heart disease.

This year, approximately 735,000 people will die of a heart attack with 370,000 of those deaths resulting from coronary heart disease (the coronary artery supplies the majority of the blood to the heart). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans that live in the southernmost states are at the highest risk for heart disease. This is largely because of poor dietary habits, obesity and lack of exercise.

What is heart disease?

To better understand what we can do as individuals to prevent heart disease, we should understand the basics.

The heart is a part of the circulatory system in the body. Our health depends on the condition of the heart because it has to pump blood throughout the body, supplying much needed oxygen and nutrients that support life.

Cardiovascular disease involves conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels throughout the body. Once the heart becomes diseased, a person’s quality of life becomes greatly affected. One may experience fainting, shortness of breath, changes in his or her skin color and weakness.

The good news is that there are steps that you can take in order to maintain a healthy heart and decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Furthermore, if you already have heart disease then there are behaviors that you can adopt to improve your overall health.

What factors affect my risk for heart disease?

Recognizing the causes of heart disease is necessary in order to prevent it. Modifiable risk factors are defined as behaviors that can be changed to decrease your chances of getting heart disease. The risk factors that play into your chance of developing heart disease are: high blood pressure, tobacco use, poorly controlled blood sugar, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, abnormal cholesterol levels and being overweight or obese.

Through education and discipline, one can achieve a healthy body mass index, which should be between 18 and 25. Some steps to take to achieve this BMI are: exercising regularly (three to five days a week at an intensity that increases the heart rate), eating a well-balanced diet, keeping alcohol consumption at a moderate level and not smoking.

There are also non-modifiable risk factors, meaning that they cannot be changed, that play into your chance of developing heart disease. These include: race, age, gender or family history of cardiovascular disease. For these reasons, it is even more important to take control of the modifiable risk factors to lower your risk of developing heart disease.

How do I know if I have cardiovascular or heart disease?

You should talk to your health care provider in order to confirm if you have or are at risk for a heart or cardiovascular problem. Those that have uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure), peripheral vascular or artery disease, poorly controlled diabetes, history of a heart attack, chronic kidney disease, heart failure or swelling to the legs have cardiovascular issues and may be at high risk for compounding heart disease.