February is Heart Health Month in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these conditions are also leading causes of disability, preventing people from working and enjoying family activities. Cardiovascular disease is also very expensive—the CDC estimates that together, heart disease and stroke hospitalizations in 2010 cost the nation more than $444 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity.
CDC statistics also show that, overall, 11% of adults aged 18 and over had ever been told by a doctor or other health professional that they had heart disease, 6% had ever been told they had coronary heart disease, 24% had been told on two or more visits that they had hypertension, and 3% had been told they had experienced a stroke.
There are things that all of us can do ourselves, or encourage our friends and families to do, to help prevent heart disease:
- Exercise: Getting regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. When you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater. Physical activity helps you control your weight and can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also reduces stress, which may be a factor in heart disease. Any amount of exercise can be beneficial, but if possible, try getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week.
- Stop smoking: Aside from causing respiratory problems and putting you at risk for lung cancer, smoking is also a major contributor to heart disease. People who smoke are two to four times as likely to have heart disease as non-smokers. Quitting smoking reduces this risk and can help you feel healthier and more energetic, and many studies show that quitting smoking can help extend your life expectancy.
- Eat healthier: Eating a heart-healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and high-cholesterol. Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease, so controlling your weight can be another important benefit of eating healthier. A few quick changes that can make your diet more heart-healthy include:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, all of which are high in fiber
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk to reduce your overall calorie intake
- Cut back on salt and sugar
- Drink water instead of soda or juice
- Balance your calories and avoid oversized portions
At Fenway Health, we know that getting motivated to start a new exercise routine, quit smoking or change your diet isn’t always easy. Our Take Charge program is here to help you. On the Take Charge page of our web site, you’ll find informational brochures on these and other health topics. The Take Charge program also runs participatory workshops. If you would like to learn more about hosting a session for your organization or group, email Catherine Basham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have concerns about your heart health or your health generally, speak with your medical provider. Not connected to care? Give us a call at 617.927.6000 if you would like to become a patient at Fenway Health.
Heart Health Month is a great time to make a commitment to living a healthier life!
Stephen L. Boswell, MD
President & CEO, Fenway Health