February Is American Heart Month

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American Heart Month

American Heart Month is observed each year in February. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular disease is the world’s number one cause of death among men, women, and most racial and ethnic groups, killing over 17 million people every year. This is a very important period during the year because greater awareness is created to educate the public about various heart conditions. This can go a long way to help reduce the rate at which heart-related diseases are taking people’s lives. We need to use this month, and every month thereafter, to take extra care of our heart health, and help those who already suffer from heart diseases. American Heart Month is a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health.

February is also a time for cold weather and snow. A lot must be done around the farm, such as feeding livestock, breaking water in water troughs, cutting wood, or loading stored grain. There are also many other uncontrollable variables that make farming a very stressful occupation, such as high demand, time pressures, increased workloads, uncontrollable weather, machinery breakdowns, variable crop prices, or even economic survival. Farming consistently has one of the highest rates of death due to stress-related conditions like hypertension and heart or artery disease. Managing stress is an important part of preventing heart disease. Stress makes the heart beat faster, and people who are stressed all the time secrete a hormone that raises blood pressure causing the body to retain more fluids placing excessive stress on the heart.

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease including diabetes, overweight and obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. Most of these things we can control, so begin by making small changes one day at a time. Diet is a major contributing factor in heart disease prevention. A heart-healthy diet is one that limits unhealthy fat, cholesterol, and sodium, but encourages high fiber and heart-healthy fats. There are three different types of fats…saturated fat (unhealthy), unsaturated fat (healthy), and trans-fat (unhealthy). We can limit the “bad fats” and increase the “good fats” in our diets by choosing lean meats and leaner cuts of meat, using ½ less fat in recipes without changing flavor or texture, limiting the sauces, dressings, and gravies we put on foods, make recipe substitutions, reduce high-fat dairy products, and use herbs and spices to enhance flavor rather than by adding fat and salt.

Preventing heart disease starts with knowing what your risk factors are and what you can do to lower them; however, risk factors can be different for everyone. Some risk factors cannot be changed, including your age, sex, and a family history of early heart disease. However, many others can be modified such as being more physically active and eating a healthier diet. Make changes one at a time, the important thing is to make changes.

What you can do: Know your numbers by getting your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels checked. Choose heart-healthy foods, aim to achieve a healthy weight, and find ways to manage your stress.

Submitted by Sonya G Patterson

Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent

N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caswell County  Center