February’s Emphasis On The Heart Extends Beyond Valentine’s Day

By Patrick Donovan

The month of February brings Valentine’s Day, which renders thoughts of bright pink hearts and spending time with loved ones. But during this month, you should also be focusing on your own heart.

February is American Heart Month. The goal of this designation is to increase awareness and promote a healthy lifestyle in regard to the number 1 cause of death in the United States—heart disease.

Heart disease refers to conditions that create narrowed or blocked blood vessels and can trigger heart attack, chest pain, or stroke. A process known as atherosclerosis develops when plaque builds up on artery walls, causing the arteries to narrow. Risk factors of heart disease that individuals can modify include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor diet, physical inactivity and smoking.

This disease took nearly 836,546 deaths in the United States in 2018, per the American Heart Association. This translates to around one out of every three deaths.

Heart Disease Affects This Community Too

Ohio certainly sees the impact of heart disease. In 2016, 7.4 percent of Ohio adults had reported being diagnosed with either a heart attack, chest pain, or coronary artery disease. The 2016 Ohio County Health Rankings revealed that 30.1 percent of Butler County adults are considered to be obese, which requires a body mass index of 30 or more. Body mass index measures body fat based on height and weight.

“Heart disease is very serious throughout the country, Butler Co. is no different,” said Therese Currin, practice administrator at Trihealth Heart Institute. “It’s very important to know the risk factors.”

“Anyone with family history, hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes is more at risk for heart disease,” Currin said.

Obesity, a cause of heart disease, should also not be overlooked. A study reported on by CBS News showed that moderately obese people die up to three years prematurely.

Obesity also impacts our youth. Ohio’s 10 to 17-year-old childhood obesity rate from 2016-2017 is 18.6 percent, the sixth highest in the nation. Children with this condition are more likely to become obese adults and have an increased risk of health problems, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Machel Tipton, RN, MSN and practice manager of Miami University’s Student Health Service, says good habits need to be instilled at young ages.

“Studies have shown when we are overweight, our hearts are working too hard, and this leads to high cholesterol and hardening of arteries,” Tipton said. “It’s so important to keep kids active and make sure they get plenty of exercise.”

Hypertension touches the lives of many Ohioans. 2015 data from the Ohio Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System highlighted that 34.3 percent of Ohio adults have been diagnosed with hypertension during their lifetime. It is also estimated that 37 percent of Ohio adults have high cholesterol.

What You Can Do to Help Your Heart

While these statistics may seem pressing, there are a variety of ways to protect your heart. Currin said that heart disease can be preventable through lifestyle modifications.

She recommends the following:

  • Know your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with lean protein, fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid fried foods and watch sodium (salt) intake
  • Exercise in ways that get your heart rate up, such as walking—it doesn’t have to be vigorous.

The History of Heart Month

President Lyndon B. Johnson first declared February as National Heart Month in 1964 to encourage Americans to be conscientious of heart disease. President Donald Trump issued a proclamation on Feb. 1 promoting heart-health awareness.

“This month, I encourage all Americans to prioritize their health and educate themselves about heart disease,” Trump said in the proclamation. “Through our continued efforts as a nation and as individuals, we can work to reduce the chance of heart disease and ensure both present and future generations of Americans live healthier and fuller lives.”