American Heart Month, and What We Can All Do

It’s no surprise that February is American Heart Month. Think about it – how many hearts did you see displayed in newspaper ads, malls, restaurants and bars, grocery stores – in fact, pretty much everywhere – during the first half of February? That’s right, all in celebration of the holiday of love, Valentine’s Day. When we think “heart” on its own, we think love on the one hand, and health on the other. Emotional and physical. The heart, placed in the middle of the top half of our bodies, is the central portal for our circulation, working in tandem with the brain for all basic functionality. And when we feel love, we feel it there too.

American Heart Month, to be sure, is not about love – rather, it’s about keeping our hearts healthy. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), reports: “Cardiovascular disease – including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure – is the number one killer of women and men in the United States,” thereby behooving the government to get involved. Hence, American Heart Month was declared a federal holiday, commemorated first under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Today, American Heart Month continues to gain focus from the White House. For example, in honor of American Heart Month’s 50th anniversary two years ago, President Obama issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to follow a few simple tips for a “long and healthy life.”

And the good news is that since lifestyle is the main influence on cardiovascular health, there’s often hope for change. By now, most Americans are aware how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, even if they are not aware that lifestyle might specifically benefit the heart. But even if we’ve heard it time and time again, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded. So here goes:

Exercise. Increased circulation is crucial to optimal health. Move, and you’ll need more blood flow, triggering the heart to circulate more. By exercising, you not only work your leg, arm and abdominal muscles, you work your heart muscle along the way.

Fresh air. Your heart needs new oxygen, therefore, try to get outside at least once a day for fresh air. Likewise, crack a window at night for constant airflow. Pretty easy for us here in Miami during winter time.

Smoking or heavy drinking. Make a plan to quit smoking, and if you drink heavily, to reduce how much you drink. There’s no shame in admitting you have a problem, and there are a wealth of professionals to assist you.

Maintain a normal weight. This doesn’t necessarily mean being skinny, or even trim. In fact, staying below 20 lb. overweight is still within a healthy range. So, this takes the pressure, off, right?

Be mindful of cholesterol.  In order to lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and raise your “good” (HDL) cholesterol, do this: 1) Keep unhealthy fats at bay. These include fried foods, and  processed foods with fats, such as a cake mix, a candy bar, or store-bought crackers. 2) Use oils which are healthier – Web MD provides a comprehensive breakdown.

In addition, weight maintenance and exercise affect cholesterol levels for the good.

Take medicines as prescribed. If you are currently on any medications, your heart could be affected. Therefore, it is crucial to have an organized way to keep your dosage and timing correct. There are smartphone apps for this purpose – check them out if that’s your thing.

Stress. When we feel our hearts racing due to whatever’s going on in our lives, we need to take a step back because we are literally overworking our hearts. We can learn to breathe slower. We can learn relaxation techniques to easily calm down and return heart rates to normal. We can learn to let things go.

And yes, feel the love. While Valentine’s Day is about the emotional aspect of the heart, and American Heart Month is about the physical maintenance of the heart, the two are actually intertwined. How? Because one way to keep healthy is to have love in your life –  be it familial, romantic, or friendly. So, on a routine basis, we can combine both the Valentine’s Day love with a heart-healthy lifestyle.  

While at Miami OBGYN we are focused on women’s health, this doesn’t preclude cardiology. After all, if your heart isn’t at its healthiest, the rest of your body can be affected. As your medical provider, we encourage you to maintain as healthy a heart as possible, thereby increasing the likelihood of overall health for the particular gynecological or obstetric issues you may face. Heart that!