Does the secret to a long life lie in a healthy heart? Many people certainly believe so, and there are lots of reasons why. In truth, the importance of heart health cannot be overstated. And while there are doctors, organizations, fitness industry leading experts, dieticians and many, many others who stress the importance of heart health complete with facts, figures and suggestions, the numbers are stark. In fact, nearly half of the adults in the U.S. today suffer from some form of heart disease. Heart attacks are common. Deaths are on the rise. So where do you begin to get a good understanding of heart health, how you can improve and maintain it or join the fight against heart disease? The American Heart Association has designated February Heart Health Awareness Month with those goals in mind. Read on to learn more.
What is Heart Disease?
A wide variety of diseases of the heart and blood vessels fall under the broad umbrella that is commonly referred to as heart disease. Coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders (or arrhythmias) and congenital heart defects (or defects of the heart present at birth) are all considered heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease with one in four deaths linked to heart disease across the U.S. and are steadily rising.
Causes of Heart Disease
Heart disease occurs when plaque develops in the arteries and blood vessels that lead to the heart, blocking oxygen and nutrients from reaching your heart. Many common causes of heart disease are linked to lifestyle choices including high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol. High blood pressure can be such a large factor that one study shows that when cases of high blood pressure are removed, the rate of heart disease decreases from 48.5% or 121 million Americans to 9% or 24.3 million Americans.
Beyond the Heart
In addition, heart disease has been linked to type 2 diabetes and depression. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or experience a stroke as people who don’t have diabetes. Other studies show that people with depression are developing heart disease at higher rates than the rest of the population. While heart disease is indeed dangerous, in many cases it can be prevented. Some relatively easy ways to focus on good heart health include:
- Regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight and diet
- Stress reduction
- No smoking and drinking in moderation
- Annual physical exams from your doctor to assess and discuss risk factors
- Knowing the warning signs of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
The Female Connection
Though heart disease affects all members of society despite gender, ethnicity or geographical location, heart disease is the number one killer of women. And while everyone should focus on heart health, the ladies get a special emphasis during the month of February with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women® campaign. The Go Red campaign has created a community where women all over the world can come together to get involved and fight against this disease. From events and local Meetups to social campaigns and everything in between, there is something for everyone. For more information about how you can get involved in the American Heart Association’s events, please visit heart.org.