February is American Heart Month and leads with the first Friday as National Wear Red Day. Perhaps surprisingly, the shortest month in the calendar is devoted to heart disease, the leading cause of death in Americans. Regardless, it is a time to raise awareness and remind us that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is largely preventable.
CVD encompasses all types of disease that affect the heart or blood vessels. It can include heart attacks, stroke, valvular heart disease, peripheral artery disease or heart failure, for example. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths or 1 in 3 deaths in the United States annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
CAD, or coronary artery disease — the hardening of the arteries that supply blood flow to the heart muscle — is the most common form of heart disease and resulted in over 375,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2021.
But do not despair. There are many things one can do to prevent or slow the progression of CVD.
Having good habits from childhood is ideal for preventing heart disease. But it is not too late to incorporate good habits for a healthy lifestyle. We cannot change our family history or age, for example, but there are many factors that can be modified to reduce our risk of CVD.
Quit smoking or vaping. They are on the decline but still a major cause of CVD. According to the American College of Cardiology, daily marijuana users have a 35 percent greater risk of developing CAD than non-users. The Colorado QuitLine is a free resource to help you break the habit, at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grain and lean proteins. Avoid processed foods that tend to be high in sodium. Stick to mono- and poly-unsaturated fats and eliminate trans-fat and sugar from your diet.
Maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise. BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered the healthy range. Waist-to-hip ratio also provides important information about CVD risk.
Adults should get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Avoid electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. A dark and quiet room can improve your sleep environment. Monitor caffeine and alcohol intake as these may impair sleep.
Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise regularly. Work your way up to 300 mins per week and include vigorous aerobic activity. New to exercise? Consult with your health care provider before starting an exercise program.
Moderation in your choices may be key to success in lifestyle changes. Following these steps may help maintain normal blood pressure, proper blood sugar levels and a healthy cholesterol panel. Know your numbers. Thomas Fuller wrote, “Health is not valued until sickness comes.” but let’s prove him wrong. Talk with your health care provider about your risk for CVD and how to minimize it.
Amanda Forristal is a nurse practitioner in cardiology at Lutheran Medical Center.