Did you wear red last Friday?
If so, you were one of the millions sporting the color for National Wear Red Day. Each year in February, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute partner up to speak out about heart disease claiming the lives of thousands of women every year. Men and women choose to wear red on the first Friday of February in order to raise awareness for the disease and encourage more women to take care of their hearts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “only 54% of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer” in the United States. That’s just a little over half of the population. What about the other 47%?
Raising awareness for heart disease is the first step to increasing this 54%. From heart attacks to strokes, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of heart disease, along with the lifestyle changes needed to reduce your risk.
Symptoms and signs of heart disease vary from person to person and are not always noticed. Forms of heart disease can either come on quietly (which is why hypertension is known as the “silent killer”) or display detectable signs. According to Mayo Clinic, many of these signs include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Racing heartbeat or slow heartbeat
- Pain in neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back
- Pale or blue skin color
- Swelling in the hands, ankles, or feet
If you experience any of these symptoms, even if they appear minor, it’s important to contact your doctor right away. You may be detecting a heart attack, infection, or heart defect.
In order to prevent heart disease as much as possible, it’s important to live out a heart-healthy lifestyle. Reducing your risk of heart disease can be done in a variety of ways and can begin today. WebMD provides 8 ways to lower your risk of heart disease:
- “Quit Smoking.” Smoking is highly damaging to your lungs, which is why you two times more likely to have a heart attack than if you don’t smoke. One of the best things you can do for your health (for heart disease and cancer) is to quit smoking – our Harrisburg Area YMCA branches offer Freedom from Smoking courses to the community to help you with quitting.
- “Improve Cholesterol Levels.” Your cholesterol is important to monitor because it can clog arteries in the heart and lead to heart disease or stroke. According to WebMD, “To help lower cholesterol levels, eat a diet low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and refined sugars and high in fiber.”
- “Control High Blood Pressure.” High blood pressure is very common. According to EverydayHealth, “cutting back on dietary salt, quitting smoking, eating a plant-based diet, exercising regularly, losing excess weight, and managing stress” are a few ways to help lower your blood pressure.
- “Get Active.” Exercising regularly can help lower your risk, as well. According to Healthline.com, “When it’s exercised, the heart can pump more blood through the body and continue working at optimal efficiency with little strain. This will likely help it to stay healthy longer.”
- “Follow A Heart-Healthy Diet.” Eating the right foods can also improve your heart function and your body’s overall health. According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet should include “a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, [and] non-tropical vegetable oils.”
- “Get To A Healthy Weight.” Healthy weights are determined through a variety of factors including age, sex, and height. Talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight looks like for you.
- “Control Diabetes.” Diabetes can also increase your risk for heart disease. If you think you may be developing diabetes, make sure to talk to your doctor and get the proper treatments necessary.
- “Manage Stress And Anger.” Stress leads to more than just a racing heart. According to Harvard Health, stress can lead to smoking, drinking, or consuming comfort foods that are high in salt and fat. These “outlets” can be dangerous to your heart health, which is why it’s important to manage stress with healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise.
Creating health lifestyle changes through physical activity, diet, and more, women (and men) can reduce their likelihood of developing heart diseases of various forms. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, make an effort to love your heart by taking care of it in this way – and maybe even wear red!
But most importantly, tell friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors how to reduce their risk of heart disease and how to look out for the signs and symptoms. Doing this will help to increase that 54% so it’s on its way to 100.
The Harrisburg Area YMCA provides Personal Training, Diabetes Prevention Classes, and even Nutrition Counseling to help you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle. Contact your local Harrisburg Area YMCA branch for more information on our programs and services!
–Emily Sanville, Digital Communications Coordinator