why february is the perfect month to tend to your heart

Did you notice more people than normal wearing red today?

No, you’re not imagining things. And it’s no coincidence – today is Wear Red Day 2018.

What the heck is “Wear Red Day?”

Alright alright alright, let me back up and give a bit of background. In case you have neglected to flip your calendar, today is the second day of February – also known as American Heart Month. And it’s not just one of those made up “national holidays” either – American Heart Month is a federal event, dating back to 1964 when it was proclaimed by President Johnson and upheld by a Congressional resolution.

Alright, so what does this have to do with me? I’m young and healthy. 

Sure, we all feel invincible when we’re 18 and running on nothing but coffee and dreams. But, if you really take a minute to stop and think about it – chances are someone you know has been affected by heart disease and/or stroke. I say that pretty confidently too, because according to the American Heart Association, about 2,300 Americans die of heart disease every day – that’s an average of 1 death every 38 seconds. Those are some scary statistics, aren’t they?

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news… But they’re about to get worse.

When American Heart Month originated in back in December of 1963, over half of the deaths in the United States were caused by cardiovascular disease. OVER HALF. And that’s just in the United States! Not unlike many other medical conditions though, cardiovascular disease is blind to borders – it sees no race, gender, socioeconomic background, or age. Worldwide, cardiovascular disease continues to reign supreme as the leading cause of death, claiming over 17.9 millions lives each year.

Even worse? That number is projected to exceed 23.6 million by the year 2030 – just 12 years away.

Ladies, listen up. This is for you.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, and while it doesn’t discriminate, it is the number one killer of women in the United States. Ready for some more scary statistics?

1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke each year.
No, you didn’t read that wrong, 1 in 3. That’s one woman approximately every 80 seconds.

So, do I have your attention now? This is some serious stuff, ladies.

(Fellas, it’s serious for you too – so don’t think we’ve forgotten about you! But it is a(n incorrect) widespread belief that heart disease affects more men than women, which just isn’t the case. This is just about raising awareness to the #1 killer of women – a disease too many women don’t pay attention to.)

What I think scares me even more than those statistics, is that they are the culmination of 15 years of hard work and dedication by the American Heart Association to raise awareness for women. Those numbers take into account the 300 fewer women who die from heart disease and stroke everyday, and the 30% decrease in death in women over the last 10 years… and we’re still at 1 in 3 women each year

We all look different, and so our risks look different too. 

“I feel fine, there’s no way I’m at risk!” I can almost hear your thoughts yelling at me. Guess what? I feel great too, but I’m at an elevated risk for heart disease. After all, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family – and I am predisposed to cardiovascular problems on both sides of my family tree.

Lucky me, am I right?

There are so many factors that play into your personal risk of heart disease and stroke, and if you’re only looking at the obvious ones (like age or weight) you’re missing a whole host of factors that can help you really assess your risk and take charge of your health. Things like cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and physical (in)activity – in addition to family history – just to name a few.

It’s not all doom and gloom – the good news is, you can reduce your risk. 

Now, take that with a grain of salt. Those of us who are genetically predisposed can’t change our genes. It sucks, trust me I know, but it’s the truth. Lucky for us, there are steps we can take to make sure that we fight against those genetics proactively – because the reality is, you may not get a second chance.

  • Know your numbers – and if you don’t, ask!
    As women, we know tons of numbers by heart – birthdays, phone numbers, pin numbers, (if you’re anything like me) credit card numbers, social security numbers – the list goes on. But do you know the most critical numbers? Blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI? Visiting your doctor and getting a simple blood panel done could be the difference for you.
  • Visit your doctor, even when you’re not sick
    I hate going to the doctor, I’ll admit it. But since becoming an ‘adult’, I’ve been working on making my health a priority – which has included making well-woman visits a priority in my healthcare. That’s when my doctor does my blood work for the numbers I talked about above, and we discuss any changes in my health, so that we have a recorded baseline should things change.
  • Focus on managing your stress (I know, sounds like a joke – but it’s possible)
    Even outside of maintaining your heart health, learning how to recognize and developing healthy ways to cope with stress is an invaluable skill. I should know, it’s something I’m still working on every. single. day. Chronic stress can negatively affect your heart health by raising blood pressure, damaging artery walls, weakening your immune system. So grab your yoga mat (or, again, if you’re like me) the phone number for a great therapist, and take control of your stress.
  • Last but not least: eat healthy and get physical!
    I’m not saying you need to go full-fledged omnivore and workout every waking moment. That’s insane. But simple changes like eating more fruits and veggies, choosing whole-grain foods, and cutting back on added sugars and saturated fats can go a long way. The AHA also recommends 30 minutes of physical activity per day – but plot twist, it doesn’t have to be at the gym! Even getting your heart pumping while cleaning the house or walking the dog counts too. Just get moving!

February is American Heart Month, but heart health is year-long

I love that this month is shining a spotlight on cardiovascular health, as it’s something that I’ve been focusing on very intently in my personal life. In fact, my elevated risk (and blood pressure) is part of the reason I started seeing a therapist and did the Whole30 in January. I may not be able to change my family history with heart disease, but I can change my lifestyle to reduce my other risk factors.

A strong woman looks a challenge in the eye and gives it a wink.

It’s time we do just that to cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Our hearts are counting on it. 

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