MHLbannersmallSo be sure to put your heart into it

February is a good month for Presidents. It's the high point of the calendar year for Valentine's Day sweethearts and hopefuls, too. It's also the month when the Boy Scouts were founded, Facebook was launched, a famous groundhog sees or doesn't see his shadow and the first Barbie doll went on sale. And for people who follow baseball, February, though not usually a true harbinger of spring in this part of Virginia, is when pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

red-crayon-heartLast but not least, February is American Heart Month. Despite new pharmaceutical advancements, advancing clinical technologies, our expanding knowledge about health and preventive care and a wide range of other medical innovations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remind us that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability.

In fact, about every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and about every 60 seconds someone will die directly from a manifestation of heart disease or a related vascular condition.

Despite these ominous statistics, the good news is that no matter what your age, it is never too late to lower your risk for heart disease. The first step is getting the facts about those risks and then reducing them – and there's no shortage of information in that area. The CDC, the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, WebMD, the Mayo Clinic news outlets and a wide range of other heart healthy resources are readily available on- and off-line, along with the more personalized knowledge and screening capabilities available through your primary care physician.

The next step, and the admittedly more challenging one, is to firmly commit or re-commit to planning heart-healthy activities this February (including lifestyle changes around your activities and diet) and then continuing them throughout the year. Because American Heart Month is a valuable reminder that reducing our risks for heart disease and better managing existing conditions is a year round effort.

And while you're at it, memorize these risk factors by heart:

  • High cholesterol (high triglycerides and LDL)risk factors
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Tobacco use
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Second hand smoke

As well as these signs and symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
    (Often more common in women)
  • Unusual or unexplained and prolonged fatigue
    (Also can be more common in women)
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, faint, nauseated, or suddenly dizzy
  • Pain or discomfort in the arm or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Chest pain