The American Heart Association promotes seven steps for a healthy heart. Graphic provided by AHA
By Jan Engoren
Before you can give your heart to someone, you need to ensure yours stays healthy.
So, with Valentine’s Day at its center, February is American Heart Month, a time set aside to improve awareness about heart health and cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease and other cardiovascular issues such as stroke are the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association, killing more than 800,000 people each year.
Cardiovascular problems are also the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year.
In Palm Beach County, the most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease), which occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Coronary heart disease can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure and irregular heartbeat.
Most risk factors for heart disease and stroke — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity — are preventable and controllable. Controlling these factors may reduce risk of heart attack or stroke by more than 80%, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dubbed “Life’s Simple 7,” the AHA recommendations for a healthy heart are not smoking, physical activity, healthy diet and body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
“Take time to think of your own heart health this month,” says Heather M. Johnson, 47, a preventive cardiologist at the Lynn Women’s Health and Wellness Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital.
“February is a great month to pay attention to your heart,” she says. “Get to know your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol numbers.”
A firm believer that people can control their health and destiny, Johnson encourages her patients to make lifestyle changes to their daily routines, which can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
“Simple things like staying active or just getting up and moving with moderate intensity is outstanding,” she says.
She recommends exercising 150 minutes each week, or 30 minutes/five days a week, as well as keeping your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels low, eating a Mediterranean diet and avoiding excess sodium. And, if you’re a smoker, stop.
Johnson, a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Medical School, suggests additional screenings may be in order for men and women in high risk categories. For men over 65 with a history of smoking, Johnson recommends checking with your physician to see if an additional aortic aneurysm screening is advisable.
Other screenings may include a carotid artery scan, a coronary artery calcium scan, a cholesterol test, EKG or ECG.
In women, she says, artery changes can present in other ways and can even be found during routine mammogram screenings. Changes to arteries can raise the risk of a heart attack.
If there’s an indication of breast artery calcification it could be helpful to follow up with a heart screening assessment, Johnson says.
Johnson, who is married with one teenage son, follows her own diet advice and is dedicated to exercise. Her favorite workouts include aerobic exercise on the elliptical, treadmill and StairMaster machines, lifting weights or dancing at home to the music of Whitney Houston.
Johnson keeps her exercise bag in the car. She is partial to the Orangetheory Fitness studio in Boca Raton and schedules time for workouts on her daily calendar.
“I like to mix up my workouts to keep them interesting,” she says, “and to avoid boredom.”
As a family, Johnson says, each is committed to working out and eating healthy.
“We hold each other accountable for diet and exercise,” she says.
“We take it seriously, but it’s OK to have fun with it, too,” says Johnson, who indulges in occasional pizza nights with her family. “Find a balance, keep a heart healthy focus, but allow yourself to have fun.”
For Valentine’s Day, Johnson plans to come home and relax and maybe even treat herself to a piece of heart healthy dark chocolate (after her workout, that is).
To highlight the cause and raise awareness of cardiovascular disease, the National Institutes of Health sponsors National Wear Red Day on Feb. 3. Visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov/events/2023/national-wear-red-day-get-ourhearts-pumping.
Jan Engoren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to email@example.com.