We are now a month into 2021, which leads me to ask, how are all of you faring with your New Year’s resolutions?
As we all know, staying firmly committed to the healthy living goals we have staked out for the year often fall quickly by the wayside. And, let’s be honest, resolutions are tough to keep under normal circumstances, let alone while continuing to navigate the perils of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course, the virus is especially dangerous for people with underlying health conditions, including heart disease. And so, with February being American Heart Month, now is the perfect time to promote a healthy lifestyle in service to a healthy heart.
American Heart Month started in February 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, a heart disease sufferer himself, made it a federally designated event. Since then, it has been a high-profile awareness campaign for the benefits of good heart health. Events will be held throughout the entire month, including today’s National Wear Red Day, which encourages people to don red clothing as a show of solidarity in the fight against heart disease and stroke.
All of this awareness is certainly for the good, considering the alarming statistics connected to heart disease. The biggest cause of death in the United States, it claims 655,000 Americans every year — that’s about one death every 36 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 805,000 people suffer heart attacks annually.
While genetics play a sizable role in one’s heart health, so do unhealthy lifestyle choices that lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other contributing medical conditions. At The Wright Center for Community Health, our providers have noticed a surprising trend among people who come into our offices for care unrelated to their heart recently: Routine blood pressure screenings revealed undiagnosed hypertension in as many as 21% of patients in a single month.
Thankfully, there are a number of common-sense steps people can take to improve their heart health. Here are five that I would highly recommend:
1. Stick to a healthy diet: Instead of foods that are heavily processed and high in saturated and trans fats, eat more fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and high-fiber foods, and limit your intake of salt and sugar. And, as far as alcohol consumption is concerned, moderation is key.
2. Maintain a healthy weight: Clearly, people who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of heart disease because of the stress the extra weight puts on the heart and blood vessels. By calculating your body mass index (BMI), you can determine the weight that’s appropriate for your specific body type.
3. Exercise: By now, we all know the benefits of regular physical activity — the trick is to find the right type of exercise for you. For some, it’s lifting weights at the gym several times a week. For others, it’s running or a daily walk around the neighborhood. Find what works for you and make it a habit.
4. Stop smoking: This I can’t stress enough. Given all we know about the significant damage smoking can do to our cardiovascular system, under no circumstances should you take up the habit. If you already smoke, it’s important to begin taking steps to quit. No question, it’s a challenging undertaking, but very much worth the effort.
5. Get regular checkups: With the help of your primary care physician and medication, you can take control of your health and manage the underlying health conditions associated with heart disease, whether high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.
Awareness efforts like American Heart Month are important in getting the word out on heart disease prevention, and science is doing its part to advance treatment of this terrible scourge. That said, we all need to be our own best advocates in support of better heart health. Seemingly small steps can lead to big, life-sustaining results.
Jignesh Y. Sheth, M.D., a primary care physician dually board certified in internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as Chief Medical Officer and serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations for The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. He sees patients at the Wright Center’s Jermyn practice and lives with his family in Clarks Summit. Send your medical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.