Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body, and it’s essential to watch your health to make sure it’s in working order. Heart diseases are the number one cause of death in the United States, taking roughly 700,000 lives every year. To encourage public health and help people live longer, U.S. presidents have annually proclaimed February to be American Heart Month.
The tradition began with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963, when he first declared the month in honor of the cutting-edge medical research being conducted to fight cardiovascular diseases.
Here are some life changes you can make every day to boost your heart health:
- Eat foods that are high in fiber, as well as various other foods that help you build a heart-healthy diet
- Cut down on foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol, which can cause blockages in the blood vessels and overwork the heart
- Cut down on foods that are high in sugar and salt, which raise blood pressure and damage your blood vessel walls
- Drink plenty of water; research connects sufficient hydration to reduced risk of heart disease. The recommended amount is 48-64 ounces of water per day to stay properly hydrated.
- Get plenty of exercise; if not a full workout, then be sure to vigorously move your body every day to prevent blood clots and artery blockages. Experts recommend 150 minutes per week of cardio activity (jogging, running, swimming, etc.) to stay healthy, which equates to about 20 minutes per day.
- If possible, cut alcohol, cigarettes, and other controlled substances from your life, as they are connected to several fatal heart diseases.
- Find ways to lower stress in your life, as stress can lead to high blood pressure and related cardiovascular diseases.
Common deadly cardiovascular conditions include heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. Recognizing warning signs and symptoms and not waiting to consult a medical professional can mean the difference between life and death. If you believe you or someone with you is having a heart attack or stroke, call 911 or get to an emergency room immediately.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pressure, discomfort, or pain in the chest
- Discomfort or pain in the jaw, shoulder, upper arms, neck, back, and/or stomach
- Shortness of breath
Heart attacks can present differently in women than in men. Talk with your healthcare provider to stay informed on what to look out for.
Symptoms of a stroke can come on suddenly. They include:
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the face or body. If you think someone is having a stroke, ask them to smile and to raise their arms. If one side of their face is drooping or they cannot lift both arms, it is a warning sign of a stroke.
- Slurred or confused speech, and/or difficulty understanding speech
- Blurred or faulty vision in one or both eyes
- Loss of balance or coordination, trouble walking or standing
- Severe head pain
Make note of the symptoms and the time when symptoms first appear so you can tell medical professionals. It will help them give the most efficient treatment possible. Do not assume that if symptoms go away, you will be fine; you may have suffered a “mini-stroke,” which is still a major warning sign of a life-threatening condition.
Blood pressure is specifically the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart. High blood pressure can not only cause unpleasant symptoms but contribute to more serious heart diseases. Symptoms of high blood pressure can include:
- Chest pain
- Blood spots in the eyes
- Flushing or redness in the face
Do not assume you don’t have high blood pressure because you don’t experience symptoms. Most often, it will gradually affect you without any noticeable symptoms. Have regular checkups with your healthcare provider so they can check your blood pressure and advise you on how to maintain it.