Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. In America, heart disease kills 2,200 people every day. It is true that February is American Heart Month; however, it's important to love your heart year round not just in February. Here are some questions to help determine if you are at risk.
Are you a woman older than 55? Do you smoke? Are you overweight or have a waist measuring more than 35 inches (for women) or 40 inches (for men)? Do you get less than 30 minutes of physical activity on most days?
Is your blood pressure140/90 mm Hg or higher? Has your health care provider told you that your blood pressure is too high? Has your health care provider told you that your total cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or higher? Is your HDL ("happy" cholesterol) less than 40mg/dL?
Has anyone in your family had a heart attack or stroke? Do you have diabetes or gestational diabetes? Is your fasting blood sugar 126mg/dL or higher? Do you need medicine to control your blood sugar?
If you answer "yes" to any question, you are at an increased risk of heart disease.
Some risk factors, such as age and family history, cannot be changed; however, most risk factors can be reduced by taking charge of your own health. Here are some ways to minimize the controllable risk factors for heart disease.
Educate yourself. Not only can this refer to well-known statistics, but also expert advice from your doctor on your personal risks. Your doctor can alert you to crucial warning signs, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Eat better. Replacing trans fats, cholesterol and sodium with fruits, vegetables and whole grains can go a long way in fighting off heart disease and can contribute to overall better health.
Exercise. Even 30 minutes a day, several days a week, can help keep heart disease in check. It doesn't necessarily have to be 30 minutes straight, either. Doing little things like parking farther away from the store or taking the steps instead of the elevator can add up over time.
Quit smoking. Smoking cessation has been long recommended by healthcare professionals. If you need help in quitting, there are many free resources available, including the West Virginia Tobacco Quitline at 877-966-8784.
In addition to talking with a health care provider, free, quality resources are available to help men and women educate themselves about heart health. The National Institutes for Health and American Heart Association provide reliable information.
Their websites feature tools for calculating your risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.
WVU Extension Service's Love Your Heart Movement is adapted from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's campaign and is targeted to help West Virginians become educated and enabled to take charge of their own health.
For more information about the Love Your Heart Movement, contact Hannah at the WVU Barbour or Randolph County Extension Services at 304-457-3254 or 304-636-2455, respectively.