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How to Promote Heart Health this American Heart Month (And All Year)

February 1, 2023

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When you think of the month of February and hearts, you likely picture heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, Valentine’s Day and bouquets of roses. While this is a prominent part of the month, February is also dedicated to another kind of heart – the one that beats.

The heart is one of our most vital organs, pumping blood to all areas of the body. At the center of the body, the heart is also at the center of our health. When your heart is healthy and functioning properly, it helps all other parts of your body stay healthy.

Since February is American Heart Month, our Franciscan Ministries team thought it would be fitting to share tips on how you can improve or maintain your heart health and prevent heart disease.

Understanding Heart Disease

Before we dive into ways to promote heart health, it is important to explain the basics of heart disease, including what it is, common risk factors, and symptoms. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, “heart disease is any condition that affects the structure or function of the heart. Most people think of heart disease as one condition. But in fact, heart disease is a group of conditions with many different root causes.”

Some of the most common types of heart disease include:

  • Coronary artery disease – This is the most common type of heart disease and occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become clogged with plaque.
  • Arrhythmia – This refers to an irregular heartbeat, meaning that the heart beats either too quickly, slowly or erratically.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy – This occurs when the chambers of the heart become dilated, leading to the heart muscle stretching and becoming thinner.
  • Myocardial infarction – Also called a heart attack, this involves an interruption of blood flow to the heart and can cause damage to the heart muscle.
  • Congenital heart defects – There are many types of congenital heart defects, but what this form of heart disease refers to is that a person was born with a heart problem.

As with other chronic conditions and illnesses, certain factors may increase your risk for a heart condition. Recognizing which risk factors affect you can help you minimize the likelihood of developing a form of heart disease and help you improve or maintain your heart health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists common risk factors of heart disease as:

  • High blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity

Common symptoms that could signal an issue with your heart include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper back or neck pain
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations or fluttering feelings in the chest

Promoting Heart Health

Get Moving

Physical inactivity is among the top risk factors for developing a heart condition. One way to improve or maintain your heart health is to get plenty of exercise. While you do not have to participate in high-intensity workouts every day, make sure to incorporate a variety of activities into your daily lifestyle.

For example, practice aerobic exercises that will increase your heart rate, strength training exercises and activities that will help you maintain your balance and flexibility.

Monitor Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels

A person with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels will rarely experience symptoms, so the only accurate way to know if your numbers are high is to test them. Your doctor can perform tests and monitor your levels to ensure you are within a healthy range.

If your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are high, your doctor will be able to advise you on steps to lower them.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

What we choose to fuel our bodies with affects how it functions. Not surprisingly, when we eat junk food, we tend not to feel our best. On the other hand, consuming healthy and nutritious foods supplies the body with the necessary vitamins and nutrients to function properly, which gives us energy to get moving – and in turn, keeps our hearts healthy.

Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are heart-healthy options, whereas saturated fats, salty foods, and fatty meats can adversely affect our heart health.

All aspects of our health are connected. By taking care of your heart health, you are promote overall wellness.

Our Franciscan Communities offer dining programs, activities and amenities that make maintaining a healthy diet and staying physically active easy. We encourage you to visit our website or contact a member of the Franciscan Ministries team to learn more.