February is American Heart Month | West Suburban YMCA

February is American Heart Month

Feb 17, 2021

February is American Heart Month, and the Y is encouraging the community to focus on their heart health and learn how to lessen their risk for heart disease, one of the greatest health risks to Americans. 

This year, heart health education is particularly important due to the impact of COVID-19. Recent research shows potential harmful effects on the heart and vascular system, making it even more necessary to care for your heart.  Additionally, because of the pandemic, many people have delayed or avoided going to hospitals for heart attacks and strokes yielding poorer outcomes.   When it comes to heart attacks and strokes, the hospital is still the safest place to be even during a pandemic, so call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.  Additionally, it’s been easy to slip into unhealthy lifestyle choices during this time, including inactivity and an unhealthy diet.  

Luckily, simple lifestyle changes can help improve your heart health.   

Learn your risk.  Chat with your family members to find out your family's medical history.  It’s important to know if things like high cholesterol, heart attacks, and heart disease run in the family.  High blood pressure also increases your risk of heart problems. Lowering or maintaining normal blood pressure can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease or stroke. 

Get moving!   Spending more time at home, including telecommuting, can lead to a lot less physical activity.  The CDC recommends 150 minutes a week of physical activity, which may sound like a lot, but is only about 22 minutes a day!  Carve out some time in your day for a quick jog around the neighborhood, a walk with your family, or join us here at the Y.  There’s plenty of space!  If you’re working from home and sitting on Zoom all day, take a few moments to get up and stretch over the course of the day. 

Put out the cigarette.  It’s never too late to quit smoking.  When you quit smoking, you reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses.  One resource that can help you take the step to quit smoking is the national hotline 1-800-QUIT-NOW, which offers support and help to get started kicking the habit. 

Make some changes in the kitchen.  Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets, and sugary beverages. Easy ways to do this are to buy fresh food instead of prepackaged foods when possible, read the labels and opt for low-sodium choices, and make use of the spice rack by using spices instead of salt to add flavor to your cooking.  Since many of us are cooking at home more often these days, this is a simple way to take control of your diet. 

Manage your stress.  Researchers are still learning about the effects of stress and how it impacts heart health specifically, but stress is certainly a factor that affects lifestyle habits that can contribute to heart disease.  Stress can contribute to habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating an unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.  Anxiety and stress are on the rise due to COVID-19, so it is important to find outlets to manage that stress. Spending time with family or friends, making time for a favorite activity, or trying meditation are some healthy habits that may help reduce stress.  

Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can be associated with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep to aid with the prevention of heart disease.  Children need at least 10-12 hours of sleep per night. Developing bedtime routines for the whole family can help with falling asleep faster and staying asleep.  

Celebrate American Heart Month by taking charge of your health and your heart.  A healthy heart is achievable by making lifestyle changes such as lowering sodium intake, eating healthier, getting more physical activity, and getting enough sleep. To learn more about heart health, visit the American Heart Association website or talk to your doctor.