Woman and child making heart symbol

February is American Heart Month: Take care of your heart

During the month of February, expect to have hearts on your mind in celebration of Valentine’s Day. But beyond this heart-filled holiday, the entire month is devoted to hearts, yet this time it’s about caring for your own. February was designated American Heart Month and it’s committed to raising awareness about heart disease and the importance of taking care of your heart by taking care of your health.

Today, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting men and women of all ages. Yet the health of your heart is in your hands as the condition is often preventable by making some healthy lifestyle choices and managing issues that put you at risk. For American Heart Month 2021, learn how to reduce your risk of heart disease and detect its signs and symptoms.

What are the main signs of heart disease?

There are a number of different kinds of heart disease, yet they all share similar symptoms. Paying attention to these warning signs is critical. The most common heart disease symptoms to watch for include:

  • Chest pain
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Pain in the neck, throat, abdomen or back
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Excessive sweating

Are you at risk for heart disease?

Putting an end to heart disease begins by understanding your risk, which is based on several factors related to your health and lifestyle choices. While the risks are different for each person and some that are related to family history just can’t be changed, most can be lowered simply by following some healthy advice. The more of these conditions that you experience, the higher your overall risk:

  • You have high blood pressure
  • Your cholesterol level is high
  • You’re overweight
  • You have an unhealthy diet
  • You’re a smoker
  • You get very little physical activity
  • You have diabetes or pre-diabetes
  • Heart disease runs in your family
  • You’re over age 45

What can I do to avoid needing heart disease treatment?

When it comes to heart disease treatment, prevention is the leading prescription. American Heart Month is the perfect time to finally change your habits to reduce your risk of heart disease. These important changes begin with some simple lifestyle choices that can make a major difference in your overall health and your life.

  1. Eat smart: A healthy diet is at the heart of a heart-smart lifestyle. Choosing foods full of vitamins and nutrients isn’t only good for your heart, but also your energy, weight and well-being. Fill your meals and snacks with plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with fiber-packed whole grains, lower-fat dairy products, lean meats and poultry, fatty fish like salmon, beans, nuts and healthy oils. Try to avoid—or at least limit—foods that are high in saturated fat, sodium and added sugar.
  2. Move more: Adding some heart-pumping exercise to your day can improve both your heart and your overall health. According to the American Heart Association, you should aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week to help lower your risk of heart disease. Be sure to choose an activity that you enjoy so you’ll make it a habit, such as walking, biking, playing tennis or even dancing. Any activity that gets you moving will do your heart and your health some good.
  3. Stress less: High levels of stress have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Stress not only affects your heart, but also your happiness. While you may not be able to control the stress in your life, you can control how you cope with it. Luckily, there are many ways to manage stress that benefit both your body and your well-being, from meditation and deep-breathing exercises, to volunteering and talking with friends.
  4. Quit smoking: If you’re a smoker, it’s time to pack it in. Smokers are more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers, so quitting can greatly reduce your risk. You also need to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke because somebody else’s habit can do damage to your health. Along with asking your family and friends for support, talk to your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor to learn effective ways to quit.

During American Heart Month 2021—and every other month—listen to your heart to improve your health. Making a few heart-smart lifestyle choices can help you reduce the risk of heart disease.