What is American Heart Month?
The American Heart Association designates each February to be American Heart Month. The purpose of doing this is to raise awareness about heart health and heart disease in the United States. Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the United States, so we need to start doing our part in fighting it. Let’s be heart healthy together!
Basics About Heart Disease
- One person dies every 37 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.
- About 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
- In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.
- About 1 in 5 heart attacks is silent—the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it.
The Risks and Symptoms
One of the most important things the American Heart Association and the Center for Disease Control want people to get out of this month is knowing who’s at risk and what the symptoms are. In doing research, the CDC found that almost half the American population has at least one of the three key risk factors. These key risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. As you can see, some of these risk factors are genetic and can’t be controlled, while some are a factor of an individual’s own doing.
Other risk factors to be on the lookout for….
- Alcohol Consumption
- Little/No physical activity
Moving on, it is also important that you know the symptoms of heart disease. This is a huge step in educating the public about heart disease, since most people are diagnosed with heart disease when it’s too late. The sooner you get checked out, the sooner you can get treated, so don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms.
- Chest pain or tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or numbness in the arms or legs
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, or back
It is important to visit a doctor immediately if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Kids Heart Challenge
One of the biggest events the American Heart Association puts on (year-round) is the Kids Heart Challenge. In this event, kids are taught about ways to keep their heart healthy. While doing so, they are also encouraged to ask family members to make a donation to the American Heart Association for research. As children progress into Middle School and High School, they put on similar events called Hoops for Heart and Jump Rope for Heart. This encourages children to get the physical exercise needed to keep your heart healthy, while also collecting donations for research to be done for the American Heart Association. They offer some pretty good prizes, so the more money your child raises, the better the prizes will be! It’s important to educate children from a young age, and this is an easy way of doing so.
Good Heart Exercises
Keeping in mind that constant exercise is important to have a healthy heart, and that doesn’t mean you have to play a sport to participate. There are three common types of exercises that you can do a couple of times a week to attempt to prevent heart disease in your body.
- Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise is very beneficial to your cardiovascular system, where your heart is located. Experts claim that doing aerobics 30 minutes a day, five times per week can improve your circulation in your body, which in part will lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Good examples of aerobic exercises include running, swimming, cycling, jumping rope, and playing tennis. This gives you plenty of options to participate in!
- Resistance or Strength Exercise
Resistance and strength training play a big part in the body’s composition. This is important to a healthy heart because people who are overweight carry a higher risk of getting heart disease at some point in their life. Doing resistance exercises/strength exercises will aim to prevent that from ever happening. A good example of this type of exercise includes working with free weights, dumbbell curls, push-ups, and sit-ups. Experts suggest working on your strength at least twice a week, but not on consecutive days.
- Stretching/Flexibility Exercises
Stretching and flexibility training don’t have a direct impact on your heart health, but it impacts your skeletal system which is important for strength and aerobic exercises. Doing stretches and flexibility training will prevent joint pain at a young age, cramping, and most other muscular issues. T’ai Chi and yoga are two good examples of this. Doctors suggest doing stretches before and after exercises each day, which includes walking and running as well!
Good Foods to Eat
- Leafy Green Veggies
- Spinach, Kale, Lettuce, and Collard Greens
Adding leafy green vegetables into your diet will benefit you in the long run! These foods are a good source of Vitamin K and protect your arteries and prevent harmful blood clots from forming. So make yourself a salad, put it on your sandwich, or do whatever it takes to add green vegetables to your everyday diet.
- Rice, Oats, Barley, and Quinoa
Did you know that whole grain foods are high in fiber? High fiber foods prevent high cholesterol in your body, which can also reduce your risk of heart disease. Some easy ways to add whole grains into your diet would be by switching to whole grain bread, brown rice, or having a bowl of oatmeal in the morning instead of cereal.
- Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, and Raspberries
All of the berries listed above are very rich in antioxidants, which prevent struggles in breathing. One study has shown that eating blueberries at least once daily has improved the cell function in the blood vessels.
As all of the other foods listed, avocados help reduce your risk of heart disease. This is due to the fact that avocados are a good source for monounsaturated fats and potassium. Eating avocados can prevent high cholesterol or blood pressure from developing and can reduce your risk of being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
- Fish and Fish Oil
- Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel, Sardines, and Fish Oil Pills
Eating any type of fish or fish oil will benefit your heart immediately after it’s added to your diet. Some studies have shown that decreasing the amount of fish you have in your diet can cause an increase in risk factors for heart disease, as well as an increased chance of having diabetes.
At the YMCA
Here at the Harrisburg YMCA, we offer a variety of activities and classes you can enroll in to keep your heart healthy. Most of these programs are included in your membership, as well. From our Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring Program to our YMCA Weight Loss program, all of our branches offer all sorts of activities you can participate in to keep your heart in the best shape possible. Check out all the health classes we offer, and where they are located here.
—Kyle Caskie, Marketing Intern