February is American Heart Month

In the U.S., one in every four deaths is caused by heart disease.

This makes heart disease the leading cause of death for men and women. However, the good news is people can take steps to prevent heart disease and make healthy choices to decrease their risk.

February is declared as American Heart Month. During this month, the CDC and American Heart Association work to raise awareness about heart disease and how to prevent it. According to the American Heart Association, here are some things you can do now to reduce your risk at any age:

• Choose a healthy eating plan: The food you eat can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. Make sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes and seeds and try eating some meals without meat. Select lower fat dairy products and limit sweets, sugar- sweetened beverages and red meat.

• Be physically active: It is recommended you do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or hour or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity every week. So whatever kind of activity is your favorite, just get out and move. Walking, biking, dancing, swimming, jogging or even doing the steps right in your own home.

• Find a doctor and have routine wellness exams: It is important for people of all ages to have a medical home where they receive regular care. Having your blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, blood sugar and body mass index checked by your provider can help you to assess where you are at and make changes to your diet and lifestyle.

• Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke: Smokers are at a much higher risk for developing heart disease than nonsmokers. Smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease and several other chronic conditions. Even being exposed to secondhand smoke can increase your risks. So now is the time to quit. Free help is available through the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT NOW or wiquitline.org.

• Know your family history: Having a relative with heart disease increases your risk and more so if the relative is a parent or sibling. That means you need to focus on risk factors you can control by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not smoking and eating right. Also, keep your doctor informed about any heart problems you learn about in your family.

• Tame your stress: Longterm stress causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure that may damage your heart’s walls. Take some time each day to be mindful, present and work on stress reduction activities. This could mean taking a walk, deep breathing, reading a book or even trying out yoga.

Preventing heart disease means making smart choices now that will help improve the rest of your life to come. For more details, visit www. heart.org

Libby Holte, CHES, is a public health educator at the Division of Public Health and is a member of the HSC2020 SCAN Coalition.