February is American Heart Month

Hands holding a heartThe month of February is American Heart Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 67 million Americans have high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease. Someone who fails to monitor his or her high blood pressure means that person is three to four times more likely to have a stroke or develop heart disease as a person with average blood pressure.

Although high blood pressure can pose serious health risks, there are often no signs or symptoms of it. Someone’s health could be in danger, and they might be blissfully unaware. It is fairly inexpensive to get your blood pressure checked. Screenings are available at pharmacies and doctor’s offices, and there are machines one can purchase to do it at home. If you discover that you have high blood pressure, consult your physician and work with medical professionals to monitor your levels. Medication, diet, personal habits, and physical activity can each play a part in lowering your blood pressure.

The National Institutes of Health website lists obesity as a considerable factor increasing one’s chances for developing Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). Being overweight or obese can lead to a build-up of plaque in the arteries, increasing the chance for angina, stroke, or heart attack.
Smoking is another major cause of high blood pressure. Quitting smoking is notoriously difficult to do, but the benefit to one’s health is measured in years. Even fewer than five cigarettes a day makes a person two to four times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. On average, a smoker dies 13-14 years sooner than a non-smoker.

Gender, ethnicity, race and geographic location can increase your risk of the occurrence of heart disease but no one is immune. African American men have the highest risk, however heart disease affects people of all ages, race, and gender.

Dietary changes can assist in lowering blood pressure. Healthfinder at the Health and Human Services website is a great resource for information on controlling blood pressure. Reducing sodium intake can lower one’s levels. Eating heart-healthy foods promotes a healthy physical environment where heart disease is less likely to develop. These foods include garlic, fresh spinach or kale, apples, peaches, pears, oranges, bananas, fat-free or low fat milk, tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage.

Other diet tips are to avoid fried foods, cakes, cookies, and fatty meats. Look for canned foods that are low-sodium or are labeled “no salt added.” Buy lean meats and other high-protein foods with low fat content, such as seafood, skinless poultry, beans, peas, lentils, eggs, nuts and seeds and oils like vegetable, canola, olive, peanut or sesame oil. Eat whole grains, such as brown or wild rice, barley, oatmeal and whole-wheat pasta and bread.