February is not only the month of Valentine’s Day, it’s also the month the American Heart Association (AHA) shines the light on heart disease and women’s health during the Go Red for Women Heart Disease awareness campaign. Because studies show that heart disease is the #1 causes of death for women, the AHA takes the whole month of February to share helpful information, host events and provide resources to educate women on ways to prevent heart disease.
Heart disease, also referred to as coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease is defined as the accumulation of plaque in the heart’s arteries. Here is a brief explanation from the AHA’s on Coronary Disease of what happens when plaque builds up in the arteries:
With coronary artery disease, plaque first grows in the coronary arteries until the blood flow to the heart’s muscle is limited. This is also called ischemia. It may be chronic, caused by narrowing of the coronary artery and limitation of the blood supply to part of the muscle. Or it can be acute, resulting from a sudden plaque that ruptures. (Source)
This buildup of plague is what leads to disease and causes heart problems such as heart failure, heart attack, stroke or arrhythmia (irregular heart beat). With the understanding of what heart disease is, let’s look at what causes it and what the AHA recommends to prevent heart disease, and in essence prolong your life.
Here are 3 lessons we can learn from the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Campaign.
Lesson #1: There Are Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease We Should Not Ignore.
Many people who have heart disease are not aware that they have it, often because it takes time for the arteries to become blocked or narrowed by plaque build up. There are however, several symptoms that we can recognize, and the AHA has identified them as risk factors for heart disease. Among the risk factors are:
Heart Disease Risk Factors That Can’t Be Prevented or Modified
- Family history
Heart Disease Risk Factors That Can Be Prevented or Modified
- High Blood Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- Lack of Exercise
- Obesity and Weight Gain
Lesson #2: Heart Disease Can Be Prevented.
Because heart disease mostly occurs from lifestyle activities that we can control, there are practical things we can do everyday to prevent heart disease.
What We Can Do To Prevent Heart Disease
The AHA recommends the following activities to reduce the risk of heart disease:
- Eat healthy. A heart healthy diet includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lean proteins.
- Exercise regularly. The AHA recommends at least 30 minutes per day at least 5 days per week of moderate intensity exercise to maintain a healthy heart.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Because our bodies are different, the AHA uses body mass index (BMI) in its recommendation for healthy weight. A BMI of 30 or higher significantly increases your risk for heart disease.
- Stop smoking. Simply put, smoking causes artery and organ damage and increases the risk of heart disease.
- Reduce blood sugar. A healthy range for blood sugar level is 100 after fasting overnight or for at least 7-8 hours.
- Maintain healthy cholesterol. The AHA considers a total cholesterol score of less than 180 mg/dL optimal.
- Keep blood pressure under control. A normal blood pressure is 120/80. Several things can lead to high blood pressure including stress, poor dieting, lack of exercise and obesity.
Curious about how well you are doing in these 7 areas? Click here to visit the AHA’s My Life Check site for your own personal assessment.
Lesson #3: Alcohol Can Affect Your Heart’s Health.
Though the AHA does not specifically advise you not to drink at all, there are studies that show too much alcohol can increase your chances of heart disease risk factors including high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes and stroke. Their advice: limit your alcoholic drinks to no more than 2 per day for men and one per day for women.
Heart disease can be prevented, and we can all do our part to help. Share this information with both the women in your life and the men who love them. Together we can learn to live long, heart-healthy lives.