It seems fitting that the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day has also been named Heart Hearth Month by the medical community. As you see all the heart decorations this month, think about more than just romance – think about your heart health.
Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, with one million deaths reported annually. Although term heart disease usually refers to coronary artery disease (cardiovascular disease), there are many types of heart conditions that can plague people of any age. For instance, arrhythmias (abnormal heart beat patterns) or birth defects can make heart health a concern for even the fittest athletes.
Don’t discount the importance of monitoring and taking care of your heart health. Here are four ways to get in touch with and improve your heart health this month.
1. Know your family medical history and your personal risk factors.
Heart disease can be caused by someone’s lifestyle, but it’s also hereditary. Does anyone in your family have heart disease or struggle with high cholesterol or blood pressure? Secondly, know your personal risks. Age, gender, physical condition and lifestyle habits all play a role in determining your risk. For instance, everyone’s risk for heart disease increases after the age of 65, and men tend to develop it a decade earlier than women. If you have high cholesterol or blood pressure, if you’re obese or have diabetes, and if you smoke or drink heavily, your risk will also be higher.
2. Make heart-healthy lifestyle choices: diet and exercise.
You may not be able to control your genetics, but you can reduce your risk of heart disease by taking care of your body and maintaining a healthy weight. The CDC recommends getting at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day 5 days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise at least 3 days a week. This is simple to accomplish with a fitness center membership, since you can slip in at any time of day or night to hop on a treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical.
Secondly, you may be able to offset the calories you consume with a few extra workouts at the gym, but the quality of your diet will still impact your heart health. For a healthy heart, consume a diet low in saturated and trans fats and high in unsaturated fats and oils (such as those found in fish, nuts, olives and avocado). If you don’t care for some of these foods, at least take a quality fish oil supplement.
3. Schedule regular check-ups with your doctor.
It’s especially important to have your heart monitored if you have risk factors, such as a family history of heart disease. Even if you’re healthy and fit, a physician can make sure you don’t have other heart conditions that might be impacted by the frequency, intensity, or duration of your workouts at the fitness gym. As we age, it’s especially important to maintain regular heart checkups to ensure we’re keeping our cholesterol levels in healthy ranges and catch warning signs before they become major health concerns.
4. Know the symptoms of a heart attack (even the atypical ones).
Everyone knows that chest pain and shortness of breath are key signs of a heart attack, but did you know that 1 out of 3 heart attack victims don’t experience any chest pain? Sometimes a person will have pain only in their neck, jaw, or arms. Other times, they’ll experience what seems like indigestion, nausea, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, or lose consciousness.
Familiarize yourself with the list of common heart attack symptoms and be watchful for yourself and others — especially while you’re at the gym. Responding quickly by contacting emergency medical care and having the victim chew an aspirin might just save their life.