With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, love is definitely in the air. Images and decorations of hearts, the symbol of love, can be seen almost everywhere we go. But this holiday isn’t the only reason to put a spotlight on our hearts this month. February is also American Heart Month, an annual awareness event dedicated to encouraging the public to learn about their risk of heart disease, stroke, and other heart problems.

While learning about potential health issues may not be your idea of a lovely February activity, learning how to care for your heart is extremely important, especially since heart-related health issues are the number 1 killer of men and women in the United States today. That’s why we’re encouraging you to learn about staying 'heart healthy' this month – that way you can continue to share the love with your family and friends for years to come.

Cardiovascular Disease In America

When talking about heart problems, you’ll hear many professionals use the term “cardiovascular disease”, or CVD. This is a broad term that refers to a range heart problems, including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Combined, CVDs are the number 1 cause of death in the United States today. According to the C.D.C., CVDs are also the leading cause of disability; in fact, heart-related health issues keep as many as 3 million Americans from working and enjoying family activities.

Unfortunately, while awareness about heart health in general has increased over time many CVD-related deaths could still be prevented, particularly among certain age demographics; the C.D.C. reports that while the number of preventable CVD deaths has declined in people aged 65 to 74 years, it has remained unchanged in people under age 65.

Risk Factors For Cardiovascular Disease

One of the best ways you can avoid becoming one of the millions affected by CVD is to develop an understanding of your individual heart health risk factors. There are 11 main factors – some that you can control, others that you can’t – to consider when evaluating your risk of developing a CVD:

1.Do you live a sedentary lifestyle? A sedentary lifestyle and the failure to exercise on a regular basis will increase your risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 50%.

2.How much do you weigh? People with larger waistlines and a BMI that qualifies as obese are more likely to develop heart problems. They’re also more likely to develop diabetes, which is yet another risk factor for CVD.

3.What do you eat? Unhealthy diets, particularly high fat diets, can increase your risk of developing CVD.

4.How high is your cholesterol? Higher cholesterol levels will increase your risk of developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke.

5.Do you have high blood pressure? High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for developing heart problemsin fact hypertensive heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death associated with high blood pressure.

6.Do you use tobacco? Tobacco products such as cigarettes, snuff and chewing tobacco all increase your risk of CVD; women who use tobacco are particularly at risk.

7.Do you regularly drink alcohol? While there is a debated link between red wine and a healthier heart, we know for a fact that regularly drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol can negatively affect your heart muscle and contribute to heart problems.

8.Are you stressed? Living with chronic stress can put additional strain on your heart and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

9.Age (And Gender): As we age, our risk of developing a CVD increases bit by bit from year to year. Both men and women can develop heart problems, although a man and a woman who are the same age may not be at the same level of risk. This is because men begin facing a higher risk of developing heart problems due to age after the age of 45, while a woman’s risk increases after menopause.

10.Ethnicity: Certain ethnicities – particularly African Americans – are more likely to develop CVD than others.

11.Family History: A history of heart problems in your immediate family members – such as brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents – is a sign that your genetics may be a contributing CVD risk factor.

The good news is that having one or more of these risk factors does not automatically mean you’ll develop a heart condition. However, having a higher number of risk factors does increase the likelihood of it happening, which is why it’s so important to address the factors you can and to work on preventing future heart problems.

Planning For A “Heart Healthy” Future

While this list of CVD risk factors can seem overwhelming, the good news is that increasing your heart health is as simple as following basic healthy living guidelines. For example:

Most importantly, everyone should regularly visit a doctor for basic care, tests and exams. Even if you feel fine, it’s important to schedule regular exams, as heart problems often do not present symptoms when they’re first developing. Without proper and regular medical exams, your first sign of heart trouble could easily be a stroke or heart attack. Since doctors can check your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and general health to see if there are any signs of heart trouble that you may not be aware of, they’ll be able to alert to you to potential problems before they become more serious.

CVD is a very serious health issue, and so taking steps to prevent it is extremely important. This month, we hope you’ll do more than celebrate Valentine’s Day, and will make plans to show yourself some love and begin transitioning into a “heart healthy” lifestyle. If you’d like to start by visiting and talking with one of our doctors, please call our offices to schedule an appointment, as we’re more than happy to help our patients meet any health-related goals they may have.