PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When we think about hearts in February – it shouldn’t only be about valentines. This is American Heart Month, a time when all people, particularly women, are encouraged to focus on their cardiovascular health.
The month kicked off in style today with National Wear Red Day, an annual event on the first Friday of February when people are asked to wear red to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease. Staff and providers at Northern Light AR Gould rocked their red to show their support of this effort.
Some may wonder why the focus seems to be on women. The fact is that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year. It kills more women than all forms of cancer combined, and yet less than half of women recognize that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat.
However, with February being Heart Health Month, it is the perfect time for both men and women to learn more about their risk for heart disease and the steps they can take to help their hearts.
Arthur S. Westermeyer, MD, a cardiologist at AR Gould Hospital, offers five key tips on ways to reduce your risk.
Know your family history.
“Your family history can be very important when it comes to your heart health,” says Dr. Westermeyer. “While you can’t control that history, it’s important that you understand what it is, so you be proactive in other areas if you are at a higher risk due to your family history.”
A history of diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, or heart disease can put you at increased risk for these conditions.
Dr. Westermeyer advises eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting red meat. A heart-healthy diet should include a variety of foods that are generally low in fat, low in sodium (salt), and not high in cholesterol.
Being active is important to your heart health. While that may look different for different people, something as simple as walking on a regular basis will make a big difference, according to Dr. Westermeyer. He recommends walking four or five times a week for 30 minutes.
“I’m not talking about a leisurely stroll, but a brisk walk that elevates your heart rate,” he explains. “Winter weather can add some challenges, but taking your walk inside is always a good alternative.”
Watch your weight.
Obesity increases your risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease. Eating smart and moving more can both help with maintaining a healthy weight.
“If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start,” advises Dr. Westermeyer. Smoking is the leading cause of heart attacks.
A great resource for those looking to quit is the Maine Tobacco Helpline at 1-800-207-1230 or online at thequitlink.com.
One last bit of advice from Dr. Westermeyer is that people learn the symptoms to watch out for regarding their heart.
“People often think of a heart attack as feeling like a sharp, stabbing pain – like a knife. But that may not be the case at all. For instance, it can feel like a squeezing sensation or tightness in your chest,” he says.
He cautions people to pay attention when they are feeling things like a pressure, or a tight feeling, that gets worse with exercise but gets better when you rest; shortness of breath with regular activities; and abnormal fatigue.
“If you are experiencing symptoms like these, it’s very important to discuss it with your primary care provider,” says Dr. Westermeyer.
February is a great time to commit to a healthy lifestyle and make small changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health.