Thanks to Valentine’s Day, the month of February is generally associated with all things related to the heart.
February is also American Heart Month, a time to remember to take care of the muscle that pumps blood to the body.
The American Heart Association is celebrating 50 years of American Heart Month this year, and kicks off its Go Red For Women heart health campaign today, with National Wear Red Day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year, about 715,000 Americans suffer heart attacks, and about 600,000 people die from heart disease in the U.S., which is about one in every four deaths.
Cardiovascular diseases cost the U.S. $312.6 billion each year.
Heather Winn, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, said one of the best ways to reduce the risk of heart disease begins with a proper diet.
“It’s important to eat a variety of foods and aim for a healthy body weight,” said Winn. “Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and balance the diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables and grain products.”
Winn said eating a variety of foods is the best way to get the energy, protein vitamins minerals and fiber a body needs.
“No single food can supply all the nutrients in the amounts you need,” said Winn. “It is the content of the total diet that counts.”
Winn recommends choosing a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
“These foods supply important vitamins, minerals, fiber and complex carbohydrates,” said Winn. “They are also generally low in fat. Dietary fiber has been related to many health conditions.”
Being overweight can increase a person’s total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, which can lead to heart disease.
“Increasing fiber, especially soluble fiber, may be beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol. In the intestine, soluble fiber binds to bile acids that are produced from cholesterol, thereby helping to remove some cholesterol from the body,” said Winn. “It’s better to get fiber from foods that contain it naturally rather than from supplements.”
Winn said fruits and vegetables are also an important source of antioxidants, including betacarotene and vitamin C.
“In addition, many fruits, vegetables and whole grain products are a source of folate, which has a role in lowering homocysteine levels, another possible risk factor for heart disease,” said Winn.
The CDC offers a plan for the prevention of heart disease, which includes a healthy diet, weight control and exercise.
Officials also recommend limiting alcohol use, having blood pressure checked and cholesterol monitored regularly.
“Physical activity helps tremendously,” said Winn. “To maintain heart health, 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of moderate-intensity activity is good.”
For those who need extra help keeping their hearts in shape, a number of cutting-edge treatments and pharmaceuticals are available locally.
Tahlequah City Hospital has extensive cardiovascular services for its patients. Officials there were asked to contribute to this report, but were unable to provide comment by press time.
The five major symptoms of a heart attack include pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back; feeling weak, lightheaded or faint; chest pain or discomfort; pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder and shortness of breath.