The month of February is famously symbolized by images of the heart, representing love, affection and, of course, the arrival of Valentine’s Day. But there is another connection between the heart and the second month of a new year — February is American Heart Month. Now is a great time to reflect on New Year’s resolutions that have already been kicked to the curb, and renew our commitment to a healthier lifestyle.
As part of this commitment we urge you to learn more about cardiovascular disease (CVD) and how to prevent it.
CVD — including heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure — is the number one cause of death in both men and women in the United States. Disabilities resulting from CVD account for more than $300 billion a year in health care services, loss of productivity and medical treatments.
Luckily, there is hope. Most cases of CVD are preventable with simple lifestyle changes. We encourage you to take charge of your health right now and make better choices; if not for you personally, then for those who love you and want you around for a long time.
First of all, don’t try to do this alone. If you already have a primary care provider, be sure to schedule a checkup at least once a year. Ask them to check for conditions that put you at risk for CVD like diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. If it’s determined that you have high blood pressure, or if you’ve already been diagnosed, purchase a blood pressure cuff that can travel with you. This will enable you to self-monitor both at home and on the road.
Maintaining a healthy weight is achievable through diet and exercise. We all know how difficult it can be for professional drivers to eat healthy and get enough exercise on the road, but it can be done. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and choose foods that are low in fat and high in fiber. Take brisk walks when you stop for a break, do a few crunches or sit-ups. And when at home, schedule 20 minutes a day for an exercise you enjoy.
If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation. If you smoke — quit. Easy to say, I know, but it is an unavoidable fact that smoking is a leading cause of heart disease.
Finally, learn to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack. Seconds matter and swift recognition could save your life. Symptoms include chest pain, discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Shortness of breath, pounding or changes in heart rhythm, heartburn, nausea, cold sweats or dizziness may also be sign of cardiovascular distress.
The best piece of advice has been saved for last — don’t get discouraged! These changes won’t happen overnight. Just keep in mind that every positive step you take to a healthier lifestyle is a positive step toward a healthier heart and a healthier future. Also, don’t forget to wear red on February 6 for National Wear Red Day in support of women’s heart health awareness.
For more information about American Heart Month, visit www.heart.org.