February marks American Heart Month, offering encouragement to those of us who resolved last month to live healthier lives. Heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States, is not something that happens overnight. It takes decades to develop, which gives us the opportunity to turn things around if we are headed in the wrong direction.
Unfortunately, the news from the American Heart Association is not good. A recent report indicates nearly half of American adults have some type of cardiovascular disease. This is partly due to updated guidelines for treating high blood pressure — also known as hypertension — which can lead to a heart attack or stroke, which is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.
A recently published report in the AHA journal Circulation said 121.5 million adults in the U.S. have cardiovascular disease. Last November, the AHA and American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure as a reading of 130/80 millimeters of mercury, down from the previous definition of 140/90. On the positive side, high blood pressure is one contributor to heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure that can be modified.
Also of concern in the report was that tobacco use remains a leading cause of preventable death. While the number of people smoking has declined, there was a sharp increase in adolescents using e-cigarettes to the point that is the most-used tobacco product for that age group.
Overall, the heart association’s foundation for heart health is its Simple 7:

  • Eat healthy foods.

  • Make time to exercise.

  • Avoid excess weight.

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar within a healthy range.

Accomplishing those goals can be a challenge.
When it comes to food, enlist some support. Let family members know you are trying to make healthy choices. If you see a loved one eating poorly, try a gentle, loving nudge. Maybe offer to do the grocery shopping, or do it as a team to encourage one another. Are there teens in the family who might be going off to college and who might have a mini-fridge to stock? Taking them food shopping could be an eye-opening experience.
Exercise can be really difficult to fit into our schedules, but it’s worth it. Exercise not only positively affects heart health, it also boosts mood and keeps your body stronger as you get older. According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults should aim for getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity — like a brisk walk — each week, or about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Try a family fitness challenge and compete with each other to see who can get the best results.
High blood pressure is one of the diseases people often do not know they have, and it can affect more than your physical health. Research indicates having high blood pressure in midlife can lead to dementia later on.
See your doctor. Men, especially, are known to avoid a trip to the doctor. But what you don’t know could possibly kill you.
Finally, while bad habits like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or getting too much sun can make us look and feel older than our years, taking care of our hearts can make us feel younger. The CDC says that, on average, Americans have hearts seven years older than they should be. Curious where you fit in? A short quiz that will tell you: http://bit.ly/2lJr2ib .
You can turn that around and be young at heart. Your family will love you all the more for it.