February Is When We Celebrate Valentine’s Day, but It’s Also American Heart Month.
Last year, spending on Valentine’s Day here in the U.S. was expected to reach approximately $27.4 billion.1 That’s a lot of candlelit dinners and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates! This year, whether you plan to observe Valentine’s Day traditionally or not, it’s an excellent time to show yourself — and especially your heart — some love. February is American Heart Month, and to mark the occasion, we’re offering some useful tips to help you take better care of your trusty ticker. But first, a bit of history.
A Quick Trip to the Past
While the roots of Valentine’s Day go back at least as far as A.D. 270, it’s thought that the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer may have been the first to link the day to romantic, or courtly, love back around 1375.2
The origin of American Heart Month isn’t nearly as ancient, but it still goes back nearly 60 years. To address the burgeoning incidence of heart disease, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the first American Heart Month in 1964.3 Unfortunately, it’s still the leading cause of death in the U.S. today, with someone dying from cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds.4
Practicing Cardio Kindness
As is true of many other chronic illnesses, our risk for developing heart disease increases as we age. The good news is we can improve our odds of maintaining a healthy heart by following the time-tested lifestyle advice: eat a balanced diet (while avoiding certain types of food), exercise, get enough sleep and avoid stress when possible. Factors such as where we live and our relationships with others also appear to influence our risk of developing heart disease.
But what if you have a family history of heart disease? Does that predispose you to cardiovascular problems? Maybe so, but according to Dr. Michelle Albert, who served on the committee that wrote the latest prevention guidelines developed by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, “only about 20% of cardiovascular risk is genetics. The other 80% is either behavioral or environmental.”5
That means even if heart disease does run in your family, you can still reduce your odds of developing it. The following recommendations are courtesy of Mayo Clinic.6
Strategies for a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle:
- Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke whenever possible.
- Get a move on! Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity daily if you can. Along with helping to control your weight, exercise can also help ward off high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes — all of which can add strain to your heart.
- Watch what you eat. Build your diet around vegetables and fruits, legumes, lean meats, fish, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whole grains and healthy fats (e.g., olive oil, avocado). Limit your intake of salt, sugar, alcohol, saturated and trans fats, and processed carbohydrates (e.g., pastries, sweet desserts and white foods such as rice, pasta, bread and flour).
- Lose weight if you need to. A body mass index below 25 is generally considered healthy. So is a waist circumference of 40 inches or less for men and 35 inches or less for women.
- Get your beauty rest. Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk for obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.
- Relax! It’s no secret that stress can cause all kinds of health problems. Elevated levels of stress hormones can wreak havoc in your body, and when you’re feeling stressed, you may also be tempted to indulge in unhealthy behaviors, like overeating or drinking more than you normally would.
- Schedule those health screenings. Keeping tabs on your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels is the best way to know if and when you need to take corrective measures.
While We’re Talking Lifestyle …
Remember we said earlier that where you live and your relationships can make a difference in your health? They’re considered social determinants of health, and, according to the American Heart Association, they can play as much of a role in affecting a person’s health as medications and changes in physical lifestyle do.7
This can be particularly true for older adults. For example, they might not feel safe walking in their neighborhood — maybe there aren’t any sidewalks, or perhaps they’re concerned about walking alone, in case they fall. So, they end up staying home, which means they probably don’t get enough exercise. As another example, the responsibility of taking care of a house can gradually become overwhelming, ratcheting up the stress level and opening the door to a variety of physical ailments.
Here’s One More Example …
How can these social determinants of health have a significant impact on older adults? If friends, family members and familiar neighbors are no longer around to provide emotional support, older people can start to feel lonely and isolated — and that can lead to many types of physical and mental health issues. Specific to our topic of heart disease, a review of longitudinal studies suggested that “poor social relationships” were associated with a 29% increase in the risk of incident coronary heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke.8
All of these are very valid reasons for considering moving to a retirement community like Heron’s Key. We offer a safe, secure environment where residents can maintain an active lifestyle (even now, during the pandemic) and connect with others to form new friendships. Heron’s Key alleviates the stress associated with home maintenance. Our goal is to eliminate concerns about accessing healthcare, both now and in the future. We even make it easier to stick to a heart-healthy diet with the fresh, local menu options available at Syren’s Grille.
Would Your Heart be Healthier (and Happier) at Heron’s Key?
A common refrain we hear from residents who are new to Heron’s Key is that they wish they had become part of our community sooner. People put off the decision for any number of reasons, and then when they get here and discover how much they enjoy their new home and the Heron’s Key lifestyle, they regret waiting.
You can learn more about what it’s like to live at Heron’s Key by following us on Facebook. You can also start a conversation with us about arranging a personal tour or seeing what’s currently available. We’re here to answer your questions and offer as much assistance as we can.
Meanwhile, take some time this February to be good to your heart. The payoff could literally add to your life!
1 “Total expected Valentine’s Day spending in the United States from 2009 to 2020,” Statista, January 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/285028/us-valentine-s-day-sales/.
2 Elizabeth Hanes, “6 Surprising Facts About St. Valentine,” History.com, updated Feb. 12, 2020, https://www.history.com/news/6-surprising-facts-about-st-valentine.
3 “February marks 56th consecutive American Heart Month,” American Heart Association, last reviewed Feb. 3, 2020, https://www.heart.org/en/around-the-aha/february-marks-56th-consecutive-american-heart-month.
4 “Heart Disease Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last reviewed Sept. 8, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.
5 “Environmental, culture, other social determinants play big role in heart health,” American Heart Association News, March 21, 2019, https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/03/21/environment-culture-other-social-determinants-play-big-role-in-heart-health.
6 “Strategies to prevent heart disease,” Mayo Clinic Staff, Oct. 26, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-prevention/art-20046502.
7 “Environmental, culture, other social determinants play big role in heart health,” American Heart Association News, March 21, 2019, https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/03/21/environment-culture-other-social-determinants-play-big-role-in-heart-health.
8 Nicole Valtorta et al., “Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies,” Heart 102, no. 13 (April 2016): 1009-16.