COLUMN: February is National Heart Month

Published 7:30 am Saturday, February 10, 2024

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women?

Vickie Wacaster, Patient and Hospice Advocate with Aveanna Hospice (formerly Comfort Care Hospice)

Therefore, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed February as National Heart Month. Sadly, 60 years later, according to a report from the American Heart Association, every year, heart disease takes the lives of about 700,000 Americans.

For this reason, and in recognition of February being National Heart Month, as a hospice and patient advocate, I want to share the following healthy lifestyle choices that may significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and strokes.

  • Controlling hypertension. Hypertension is the primary risk factor for strokes. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and lowering salt intake will help control high blood pressure.
  • Managing diabetes. If you have diabetes, make sure you get annual check-ups from your healthcare provider and check for high blood pressure
  • Lowering your cholesterol and saturated and trans-fat intake. Ensure you have your cholesterol checked once every five years after you reach the age of 20.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise 3-4 times a week for at least 30 minutes daily. Start with several 10-minute intervals and gradually work up to 30 minutes or more for each period. Physical activity helps manage cholesterol levels, diabetes, and weight.
  • Consuming alcohol moderately and avoiding illegal drugs. Both can have adverse effects on your health.
  • Not smoking. Smoking is the most significant contributor to heart disease. As soon as you quit smoking, your risk for heart disease drops and eventually becomes equivalent to that of non-smokers.
  • Practicing good nutrition. Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables, soy, foods rich in soluble fibers and calcium (an essential mineral in preventing strokes), and omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish).
  • Take medications as prescribed. Proper use of medications will prevent the recurrence of a heart attack.
  • Requesting screenings for heart disease and stroke. Your risk factors increase after age 20.

The heart also symbolizes the essence of one’s innermost feelings and expressions. For your emotional heart health, I want to share the following:

  • Spend 5 to 10 minutes at the start and close of each day to meditate on what and for whom you are thankful. You will feel better, and so will your heart.
  • Forgive. Forgiveness will lighten the load that you carry in your heart.
  • Strive only to think good thoughts about others. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Practice laughing (a merry heart doeth good like a medicine – Proverbs 17:22)
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Turn the day off and rest in the tranquility of the night.
  • Get a pet. Some research shows that pet owners are more relaxed and suffer less from anxiety than non-pet owners.
  • Volunteer. A new study shows that volunteers enjoy longer lives, higher functional ability, and lower rates of depression and heart disease. Comfort Care Hospice has many volunteer opportunities that will not only enrich your life but the lives of others.
  • Enjoy a walk outdoors. Enjoy the beauty of nature. Not only will the exercise be good for you but also it will relax and make you glad to be alive.
  • Enjoy your own company.   Enjoy quiet time alone.
  • Make it a habit of telling your loved ones you love them. Become an expert at loving people.

As writer John Andrew Holmes said, “There is no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and lifting another.”

— Vickie C. Wacaster is a Patient and Hospice Advocate for Aveanna Hospice (formerly Comfort Care Hospice).