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County Corner: February is American Heart Month

February is dedicated to bringing awareness to the causes of heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease, and how to live a healthier lifestyle.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is “the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.”

Heart disease causes more than 650,000 deaths in the United States each year, which is more than the number of deaths caused by all forms of cancer and respiratory disease combined.

Per the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 people die of cardiac issues each year.

A heart attack, heart failure, or arrhythmia (heart palpitations) are all symptoms of heart disease.

Key risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. Additionally, there are several contributing factors that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease, including poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, being overweight, excessive use of alcohol, smoking or secondhand smoke, and high levels of stress.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left Americans feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and a decrease in our activity levels may have caused weight gain. Each of these factors can lead to increases in blood pressure and cholesterol and have a negative effect on our mental health. In fact, 2020 saw a significant increase in heart disease related deaths over 2019, according to a study published in the medical journal Circulation.

And, while heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, the most common is coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease affects the blood flow to the heart, decreasing it which can in turn cause a heart attack.

Every year, around 805,000 people in the U.S. suffer a heart attack – that’s one person every 40 seconds.

Some common symptoms of a heart attack that you should be aware of are chest pain or discomfort that may last a few minutes or come and go. You may also have discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as one or both arms, your back, neck or jaw. Other symptoms of a heart attack may include indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, dizziness or shortness of breath.

Reclaim Your Rhythm  


One organization that helps in the fight against heart disease is the American Heart Association (AHA). One of the oldest health organizations in the world, the AHA has worked to help improve the health through donation monies received to provide research, educational programs, training, and community services.

This February, the AHA is sponsoring the “Reclaim Your Rhythm” campaign to urge Americans to live healthier lives by taking back control of their “mental and physical well-being after two difficult years of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The AHA’s suggestions for reclaiming one’s health include:

  • Doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week (please consult your physician before beginning an exercise regimen).
  • Eating a healthy diet, which typically includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, to name a few.
  • Not smoking or vaping.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Controlling blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
  • Getting regular checkups.
  • Learning Hands-Only CPR.
  • Following COVID-19 safety protocols.
  • Finding ways to relax and ease your mind, such as meditation.

These are just a few suggestions. Keep in mind that establishing a new lifestyle is not something that happens overnight – it takes time to incorporate these new habits into your daily routine. Being patient and continuing to strive toward making life changes will help you to ultimately meet your goal for a healthy life.


Heart Disease Affects Everyone

There is a common misconception that heart disease predominately affects men. While heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the U.S., it is also the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.

In 2017, heart disease killed approximately 1 in every 5 women. National Wear Red Day, which occurs on the first Friday of February each year, was created to raise and spread awareness about heart disease in women, and to educate the public about the risk factors.

It is also worth noting that heart disease is not something that only affects older adults; it can also affect younger adults. The top three causes of heart disease in older and younger adults are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and smoking. In most cases, these risk factors can be controlled through healthy lifestyle choices.


Focus on a Healthy Lifestyle

Regardless of your gender or age, it is important to have your yearly checkups with your doctor or cardiologist in order to ensure you are healthy and to identify any potential issues as early as possible.

We tend to put our families and our work before ourselves. Let’s resolve to put our health first this year.

Check out the self-help programs offered by the American Heart Association and visit Middlesex County’s Community Health webpage for information about programs that may help you achieve a healthy lifestyle.

Wishing you continued good health.


Ronald G. Rios is the director of the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners. 

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