February is designated as American Heart Month to raise awareness of heart disease and stroke – the leading causes of death in the United States.
More than 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year, including people of all ages, genders, and races. Some of the main causes of heart disease are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, alcohol, stress, and improper diet. Fortunately, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease.
Educating the public about the causes of heart disease – and how to prevent it through a healthy lifestyle – may save countless lives.
America’s focus on heart health.
American Heart Month was founded in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Since then, numerous organizations have been established providing the public with information on how to live a healthy lifestyle.
One of those organizations, and a leading sponsor of American Heart Month, is the American Heart Association. The American Heart Association was founded in 1924 by six cardiologists who believed that scientific research was needed to study the prevention of heart disease and to create a platform to advise the public on how to live a healthy lifestyle.
A non-profit organization, the American Heart Association works to secure funding for scientific research into cardiovascular disease, as well as health education programs, training and community services, and programs offering medical advice and financial assistance.
The American Heart Association’s website provides programs designed to help people make the right decisions regarding their health. This includes the REACH program, which deals with important factors such as nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco-free living.
Making a few lifestyle changes can be incredibly beneficial in lowering your risk of heart disease. This includes changing your diet to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, chicken, fish, and low-fat dairy products; incorporating more activity into your daily life; and seeing your doctor annually for a checkup.
Heart disease in women.
Many believe that most heart attacks occur in men, but heart disease is also the number one killer of women. That’s why the American Heart Association established an initiative called Go Red for Women.
Go Red for Women advises women not to overlook the risk of heart attack. Women should have routine doctor visits, check their blood pressure and cholesterol to be sure both are in a healthy range, stop smoking, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. The warning signs of a heart attack can be different for women than for men, so it’s important not to ignore signs like unusual fatigue, sweating or shortness of breath, and neck, jaw, and back pain.
Help is available.
It’s important to acknowledge that our lifestyles have changed over the years. Americans are working longer hours, often behind a desk, and this increasingly sedentary lifestyle doesn’t help. The stress of working one or more jobs and raising a family – combined with the stress of everyday life – can take a toll. Added to that, many people do not always take the time, nor have the resources, to maintain healthy habits such as routine medical visits, eating right, and staying active. If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s important to remember that there are programs available to help you achieve a healthier life.
Middlesex County offers programs that help provide screenings and education on health and wellness services for County residents. You can find information about these programs at www.middlesexcountynj.gov/ or by contacting the Middlesex County Office of Health Services at 732-745-3100 for assistance.
In addition to following the American Heart Association’s advice regarding eating a healthy diet and being active, I can’t stress enough the importance of regular checkups – regardless of your age.
Wishing you good health in the upcoming year.
Ronald G. Rios is the director of the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners. He writes the occasional column for Newspaper Media Group.