This February is American Heart Month, and nothing is more attractive than someone with a healthy heart.
Heart disease is no joke. Although rates of heart disease are declining in people over age 65, those below retirement age continue to develop heart disease at a steady rate, with men twice as likely to die from preventable heart disease as women. Overall, cardiovascular disease kills more men and women in the U.S. than any other disease.
- Geography: Live in the South where a romantic dinner might include fried chicken and mac-n-cheese? You have a higher risk of heart disease than your friends in the western parts of the country.
- Race: Almost 50% of African American men and women (44% and 48%, respectively) have some form of heart disease. They are also less likely to have other serious health conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease, like high blood pressure, under control.
- Socioeconomic status: Those in the lowest income brackets are 50% more likely to develop heart disease, even when long-term health issues like smoking and high cholesterol are addressed.
- Education: The same UC Davis study found that people with less than a high school education had an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Save the chocolates and flowers and give the gift that really matters during American Heart Month: a lifetime of love with you. Here’s how.
Find your family health history in American Heart Month
Taking a family health history can be uncomfortable at times, but it is crucial information. Using online tools, you can work with family members to gather all the information you need to know to assess your risk for conditions that are hereditary. Knowledge is power, and you want to arm yourself with every bit of information you can get to protect your heart.
While 96% of people in the U.S. believe that gathering information on a family’s health history is important, only 1/3 of those same people have taken the time to write their own history down. At the next family gathering, see if you can get that process started.
We all know we should do it, but we’re busy, right? Gym memberships are expensive, and who has the time? Remember, we’re busy?
This is like saying you are too busy to stick around and be a parent to your children or a spouse to your partner. It’s that important. Make a chance during American Heart Month.
Exercise doesn’t have to take a long time, it needn’t occur at the gym, and the whole family can be involved. Kids need a full 60 minutes of daily activity, but adults can get by with just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Walk the dog, ride bikes after school, swim laps with your kids. Play basketball on a pick-up team or tennis with your spouse. Hike through the woods, or walk on your lunch break. Stand and move at your desk or take a walking meeting. Once you get started, you will find that it’s a great habit. Your stress levels will go down and your mood will go up.
Diet is another easy place to fall down on. After all, drive-thrus are everywhere, and on busy nights it’s hard to beat the convenience of grabbing something to go or ordering something delivered. Sometimes it feels impossible to follow all of the dietary guidelines, especially when feeding a family of picky kids and people on the go.
There are ways to streamline your healthy eating and make it just as convenient as eating fast food. Try to:
- Plan ahead: Cook once a month for the entire month. It’s possible, and with a little practice it can save you a ton of money and time. If cooking for a month at a time is too much, start with a weekly meal plan and build from there.
- Change one thing at a time. Overwhelmed by requirements? Just add water. Make the commitment to drinking a full glass of water before each meal and in between snacks. Next month, add one additional serving of vegetables daily. Next month, cut a platter of fruit and veggies for the week and keep them in the ‘fridge for easy snacking. You needn’t change everything all at once. Identify the most important dietary guidelines and work on them one at a time.
Just because your doctor gives you the all-clear and you have little or no history of heart disease in your family doesn’t mean you are risk-free. A little prevention goes a long way to keep your heart healthy and happy.
Keep your heart healthy during American Heart Month and beyond by:
- Getting regular checkups: The Affordable Care Act makes preventative annual exams 100% free, so money is no object here. Visit your doctor annually for a clean bill of health.
- Keeping a healthy BMI: Monitoring your body mass index as opposed to just your weight gives you a better idea of your overall health. Muscle weighs more than fat, so someone who exercises may slim down and still gain weight. Check your BMI with an online calculator.
- Ditching your vices: While there is some evidence that a drink a day has health benefits to those who are already drinkers, too much of a good thing is, well, too much. And there is no healthy amount of smoking. Take advantage of programs that help smokers quit for life, and if you drink, do so moderately.
- Laughing a little: Stress is a powerfully dangerous factor in disease. Take time out to relax and rejuvenate.
This Valentine’s Day, and during all of American Heart Month, it’s in your hands: what changes do you need to make to protect your heart as a gift to your loved ones?
Image by Denise Sebastian via Flickr