By Dr. Sharon Nichols, DO, FACC, Cardiologist
February is dedicated to raising awareness to the number one killer of men and women in the United States, heart disease. It is most appropriate that it is aligned with the month most associated with love. Along with the pink and red boxes of candy and Valentine's Day cards, you will also notice messages about taking care of your heart, risk factors and symptoms.
This February make sure that fluttering in your chest is for the one you love. Take a few minutes to learn your risk factors and make a commitment to change those risk factors that you can directly impact. Make a year-long commitment to improving not only your heart health but the ones you love, too!
The best way to avoid heart problems in the future is by adopting healthier habits today. While there are some risk factors that you cannot change, you can focus on those you can change. The first step to improving your heart health is knowing your risk factors. Some risk factors are beyond your control:
Age - As men and women age, the risk of heart attack increases.
Gender - Men have a greater risk than women of having a heart attack.
Family History of heart attack in grandparents, parents and siblings may increase your risk.
Race - African-Americans as well as American Indians are more at risk than Caucasians for having heart disease.
Next, make a commitment to lifestyle changes that can improve the health of your heart.
Choose a heart healthy diet full of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Get active! Try incorporating 30 minutes of physical activity into your day. Of course, consult your doctor before starting a new routine.
Quit smoking as this more than doubles your risk of heart disease.
Work toward achieving a healthy weight.
Control your diabetes with a healthy diet, exercise and taking any prescription medication, if necessary.
Manage your high blood pressure.
Improve your numbers: Cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dl total; over 40 mg/dl for the "good" HDL cholesterol; under 130 mg/dl for the LDL cholesterol.
Learn how to manage stress.
There are no guarantees that making these lifestyle changes will keep heart disease at bay; however, it will certainly improve your general health.
This February, and all year long, make a commitment to your heart health. Although you may decide to give into the temptation to buy your loved one some rich, delicious truffles, make sure his or her heart is racing only because of you. If you do have any medical concerns, contact your doctor. If you do not have a doctor, call(800) 382-3522 for a free physician referral or information.
Sharon Nichols, DO, FACC is a cardiologist at the Heart and Family Health Institute in Port St. Lucie, (772) 335-9600.