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American Heart Month: Why it Matters and How to Get Involved

Every February, we circle a vital observance on our calendars: American Heart Month. It's a time when we, as a nation, turn our attention to heart disease, an all-too-common health issue that claims more lives in the U.S. than any other condition.

What's the main focus of American Heart Month? In a word, prevention. It's all about inspiring us to make those lifestyle changes that keep heart disease at arm’s length. 

From learning to spot the early warning signs of heart trouble to understanding their unique risk factors, Americans arm themselves with knowledge that could save lives.

Significantly, American Heart Month isn't just about learning and inspiring change. It bridges the gap between individuals, healthcare professionals, and policymakers. It shares real-life stories, the latest research, and urgent information to tackle this national health challenge head-on.

Featured in: February - Awareness Months, Days & Observances.

American Heart Month History and Background

Doctor holding a heart
Photo by Karolina Grabowska.

Since its inception in February 1964, American Heart Month has raised public awareness of the dangers of heart disease. President Lyndon B. Johnson, a heart attack survivor, declared a national effort to combat the nation's leading cause of death. His call to action? Encourage his fellow Americans to adopt heart-healthy lifestyles.

As years rolled by, American Heart Month began to expand its reach. Fast forward to 2004, and there's a new campaign on the scene - "Go Red for Women," launched by the American Heart Association (AHA). This campaign addresses the long-standing myth that heart disease was a male issue1, underscoring the risks women face, too.

Then, in 2008, the AHA teamed up with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for The Heart Truth initiative. This was a giant step towards educating women about heart disease. It also emphasized women's unique risks in the battle against this pervasive health threat.

From its roots in the 1960s to the present day, the evolution of American Heart Month has been significant. It's not just about raising awareness anymore; it's a multi-faceted approach to heart health. Its relevance is undiminished over fifty years after its creation, and its mission is as vital as ever.

The Cause and Its Challenges

Getting blood pressure checked
Photo by CDC on Unsplash.

Heart disease, highlighted during American Heart Month, is an intricate issue. It's not just one disease but a collection of conditions. Think of coronary artery disease, heart failure, and arrhythmias. These illnesses all mess with the heart's structure and function. And right at the heart of these diseases? Atherosclerosis. This is when plaque builds up in your arteries, disrupting your blood flow. It can creep up on people, often fuelled by high blood pressure, sky-high cholesterol, unhealthy diets, and too much couch time.

Life with heart disease can be a tough road to travel. It's not just about managing the disease itself but also the life-altering changes that ensue. Think about the emotional rollercoaster of a diagnosis or the weight of financial implications. 

Even at a community level, there are battles to fight. They range from providing top-notch healthcare and advocating heart-healthy habits to tackling health disparities. Such disparities leave some of us more exposed to heart disease than others4.

Heart disease is the infamous number one cause of death in the United States. And the data? Well, it's downright alarming. Around 655,000 Americans lose their lives to heart disease every year, or the equivalent of one in every four deaths. 

4 Reasons American  Heart Month Matters

  • Nearly half of all U.S. citizens are wrestling with at least one of the three major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Yet, these aren't insurmountable hurdles. Lifestyle changes can be managed, indicating the power of cardiovascular disease prevention in our tug-of-war with this relentless adversary.
  • Here's the kicker. Heart disease doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's often a team player, pairing up with other health battles like diabetes, obesity, lack of physical activity, and excessive boozing. This network of health woes compounds the risk of heart disease, hammering home the need for a well-rounded approach to our health.
  • Each year, heart disease lands a heavy blow. It ambushes about 805,000 Americans with a heart attack, with 605,000 of those cases being first-timers and 200,000 reeling from a previous incident.
  • Dealing with coronary heart disease costs the U.S. a whopping $219 billion every year. This tally includes healthcare services, medications, and lost productivity. It's more than just numbers on a page; its economic impacts affect individuals and families from coast to coast.

Efforts and Initiatives

The American Heart Association (AHA) stands tall in the maze of campaigns battling heart disease. Take their "Go Red for Women" campaign. It spotlights a harsh truth: heart disease is women's top killer. More than just words, this initiative triggers action. It gets women talking and, more importantly, makes them act on their heart health.

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s "Million Hearts" program aims to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes in five years. They're doing this with education and awareness about the risk factors of developing heart disease. They also provide resources that help folks make life-saving choices and manage their health conditions effectively.

But heart health isn't just a national concern. It's global. The World Heart Federation marks "World Heart Day" on September 29th yearly. People, communities, and governments worldwide use it as a stepping stone to action. Thanks to the Federation's initiative, a worldwide movement towards better heart health is gaining momentum.

10 Simple Things You Can Do for Heart Health This February

Couple running
Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash.

Looking after your heart involves a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. Needless to say, it is more than a one-month endeavor. All the same, February is an excellent opportunity to get started and plan to keep up with those changes to improve your cardiovascular health. Here are ten simple things to do for a healthier heart:

  1. Engage in Physical Activity: Incorporate moderate-intensity aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes or vigorous aerobic exercise for 75 minutes per week.
  2. Eat a Balanced Diet: Consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
  3. Avoid Tobacco: Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke to prevent heart disease.
  4. Limit Alcohol: Consume alcohol in moderation to reduce stress on your heart.
  5. Control Your Weight: Aim to reach and maintain a healthy weight to reduce strain on your heart.
  6. Reduce Sodium Intake: Limiting the amount of sodium in your diet can help lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease2.
  7. Regular Check-ups: Monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels regularly to keep your heart healthy.
  8. Manage Stress: Practice stress-reducing activities like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or deep breathing to protect your heart.
  9. Improve Your Sleep: Make quality sleep a priority. Poor sleep can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
  10. Stay Hydrated: Drink adequate amounts of water to help maintain the balance of bodily fluids, which can affect heart function.

If you think you might have any heart disease symptoms, see a medical professional as soon as possible. 

How to Get Involved and Support Healthy Hearts

Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and dive headfirst into American Heart Month? Remember to lace up those sneakers!

First off, how about embracing the power of community? Nationwide, towns and cities host a plethora of heart-friendly endeavors to raise awareness. We're talking walks, runs, and heart-healthy cooking classes. These activities don't just fuel personal health. They kindle community spirit under the umbrella of a shared cause of healthy hearts3.

Meanwhile, social media platforms are brimming with shareable content from organizations like the American Heart Association. One click could encourage a friend or loved one to get their heart health checked.

And there's more. You know that red sweater gathering dust in your closet? It's time to put it to good use on the first Friday in February - National Wear Red Day. You'll be amazed at how a simple pop of color ignites healthy heart conversations and inspires others to join the movement.

Or, why not channel your inner event planner? Hosting a charity event like a fun run or a bake sale can raise funds, foster community bonds, and promote a healthy lifestyle. Local charities working with heart health also often value volunteers and would love to hear from you. 

Conclusion

This month hammers home an important reality: our heart health isn't a given but a precious gift that needs our active care, attention, and lifestyle choices.

This month we're reminded to wear red as a token gesture and layer it with a mantle of responsibility. That could mean lacing up those sneakers for a brisk walk, swapping that burger for a salad, or even contributing to life-saving research funds.

After all, each conversation we spark could lead to healthier hearts, and every single heartbeat counts.

American Heart Month FAQs

1. What is American Heart Month?

American Heart Month is a national campaign that takes place in February to raise awareness about heart health and promote cardiovascular disease prevention.

2. Why is American Heart Month important?

American Heart Month is important because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Raising awareness and promoting healthy habits can reduce the risk and prevalence of heart disease.

3. What are some risk factors for heart disease?

Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, and a family history of heart disease.

4. How can I reduce my risk of heart disease?

You can reduce your risk of heart disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, managing stress, and getting regular check-ups.

5. How can I support American Heart Month?

You can support American Heart Month by spreading awareness through social media, participating in local events and fundraisers, donating to heart health organizations, volunteering your time, and encouraging friends and family to make heart-healthy lifestyle choices.

1

Effectiveness-based guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in women—2011 update: a guideline from the American Heart Association. Mosca, L., Benjamin, E. J., Berra, K., Bezanson, J. L., Dolor, R. J., Lloyd-Jones, D. M., ... & Wenger, N. K. (2011). Journal of the American Heart Association, 57(12), 1404-1423.

2

Whelton, P. K., Appel, L. J., Sacco, R. L., Anderson, C. A., Antman, E. M., Campbell, N., ... & Van Horn, L. V. (2012). Sodium, blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease: further evidence supporting the American Heart Association sodium reduction recommendationsCirculation126(24), 2880-2889.

3

Villablanca AC, Arline S, Lewis J, Raju S, Sanders S, Carrow S. Outcomes of national community organization cardiovascular prevention programs for high-risk women. J Cardiovasc Transl Res. 2009 Sep;2(3):306-20.

4

Schröder, S. L., Richter, M., Schröder, J., Frantz, S., & Fink, A. (2016). Socioeconomic inequalities in access to treatment for coronary heart disease: a systematic reviewInternational journal of cardiology219, 70-78.

Photo by Andrea Leopardi on Unsplash
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