Feb 03 2017
Heart attacks and heart disease carry with them a lot of misperceptions. We’ve seen characters in our favorite TV shows clutch their chests and collapse. We’ve watched as doctors warned older men and folks who struggle with their weight about the risks their hearts face. But these images only paint a partial picture. The reality is that anyone can be affected – anyone.
February marks American Heart Month, so I wanted to use this space to clear up some misperceptions and share a few tips from the experts.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Even for women, it’s more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. People of all ages can be affected.
When it comes to heart attacks, while about two-thirds of people will experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue in the days leading up to an attack, not all do. Women often times will not experience these types of symptoms. Some people experience nausea or vomiting, which can be easily mistaken as food poisoning or the flu. Lightheadedness, feelings of sweatiness, heavy pounding of the heart, or loss of consciousness may also be signs. If you experience symptoms, call 911 immediately.
While it’s not always possible to entirely prevent heart disease, most of us can take steps to reduce our risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a few recommendations.
First, schedule a trip to your doctor’s office where you can ask them about heart health. Use your doctor as a resource to help set goals. Then, listen to their advice. If you need medication – for high blood pressure, cholesterol, or something else – take it as prescribed. If you’re having trouble doing so, you can talk to your doctor about that too.
Second, get out and get moving. Even 15 minutes of walking a few times a week can make a difference. Try it for February and see if you can make it a habit. While you’re at it, they recommend kicking some other unhealthy habits too, like smoking.
Third, take a look at your plate. Simple changes can have a big impact. The American Heart Association posts great heart-healthy recipes at recipes.heart.org. One of my favorites for this time of year is their homemade Tomato Basil Soup – only seven ingredients and less than 20 minutes to make.
Looking at these recommendations as lifelong changes can be intimidating, so I encourage you to take it a step at a time. Start with February. Set goals for this month, and when March hits, reevaluate. Maybe you’ll be ready to add another 10-minute walk to your week or maybe you’ll see that your initial goals were too ambitious. Wherever you’re at, use the rest of February to get educated about heart health and try out a new healthy habit - or two!