Though Valentine’s Day is the heart-themed holiday for which February is most known, it is also American Heart Month. Amid the boxes of chocolates and candies, Americans are encouraged to check up on their heart health and consider just how much their diets may be having a negative impact.
Beyond the common desire to be thin and in shape, there’s a very serious health issue that is a matter of life or death for many people. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with one in every three deaths caused by heart disease or stroke. This equals 2,200 deaths per day. At the national level, there are several campaigns aimed at reversing this unfortunate trend.
The CDC and other federal government agencies have launched an initiative called Million Hearts with the purpose of preventing heart-related deaths and empowering people to make heart-healthy choices. The goal is to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over five years. According to its web site, http://millionhearts.hhs.gov, Million Hearts “brings together communities, health systems, nonprofit organizations, federal agencies and private-sector partners from across the country to fight heart disease and stroke.” It encourages individuals to understand the risks; exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week; follow a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol; and listen to your doctor.
Whereas the Million Hearts initiative might be more appropriate for adults, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program was developed to “solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.” According to the official Let’s Move web site (www.letsmove.gov), childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the past three decades, and now nearly one in three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Left unchecked, this will lead to an increase in diabetes, with one third of all children born in 2000 or later suffering from diabetes at some point in their lives. Other obesity-related health problems include heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.
You don’t need to belong to a gym to get sufficient cardiovascular exercise. Fortunately, South Florida is conducive to year-round outdoor activity, and our area has several heart trails for people looking for a good cardio workout. Still, regular exercise can only do so much to make up for a poor diet. As Americans continue to explore alternatives to a diet high in red meat and fried foods, more options become available. If you have never shopped at Whole Foods Market, give it a try. Not only is there a wide variety of healthful foods, but the store offers educational literature and regularly hosts cooking events and nutrition lectures.
Unlike diseases that are hereditary or autoimmune in nature, those affecting the heart are largely preventable. If you plan on sharing your heart this Valentine’s Day, take some time to think about the thing you’re sharing. Your loved ones will want you around for many more Valentine’s Day celebrations, so do what is necessary to keep your ticker ticking for years to come.