(RxWiki News) The heart keeps us going day in, day out, though we don't often stop and consider how to keep it going. Officials are encouraging people to devote time to heart health awareness this month.
February is American Heart Month, and public health officials have stressed the need for healthy choices and awareness of risk factors related to heart disease.
By paying attention to blood pressure, cholesterol levels and excess weight, people can become an active participant in monitoring their heart health.
"Find ways to exercise that you enjoy and look forward to."
In a statement from Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary for Health and Human Services, the secretary stressed the effect poor heart health has on the nation. Sebelius noted that heart disease causes one out of every four deaths in the US.
According to the latest available data from the American Heart Association (AHA), around 83.6 million Americans live with some type of cardiovascular disease or with the after-effects of a stroke.
AHA also estimated that around 2,150 Americans die each day in the US from heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular conditions.
Sebelius recommended a good diet, regular exercise and avoidance of tobacco smoke to help keep the heart healthy, and also stressed the importance of understanding risk factors for heart conditions.
"Far too many people who are at high risk for heart disease don’t know it," wrote Sebelius.
In a statement from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Martha Gulati, MD, Director of Preventive Cardiology and Women’s Cardiovascular Health at Ohio State’s Ross Heart Hospital, suggested an easy way people can understand more about their heart health and their risk for problems.
Dr. Gulati said there are five numbers relating to heart health that everyone should be aware of: blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, cholesterol and blood sugar.
“These are the numbers doctors use to assess someone’s risk for getting heart disease, both short term and throughout their lifetime,” said Dr. Gulati. “When you monitor these numbers, you are empowered to work with your doctor to improve your heart health.”
Blood pressure measures the pressure of blood on the walls of the blood vessels and is represented by two numbers. A blood pressure of 120/80 is typically considered normal.
BMI is a ratio that compares weight to height in order to determine if a person is at a healthy weight for their height. A BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight, a BMI over 25 is considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is typically considered obese.
Waist circumference measures the presence of fat around the abdomen, an excess of which is a risk factor for certain heart conditions. According to Dr. Gulati, a healthy waist circumference should be no greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.
When excess cholesterol is found in the body, it can build up in the arteries and cause heart troubles. Dr. Gulati said that a healthy total cholesterol number should be below 200.
High levels of blood sugar can point to diabetes, which can in turn lead to heart problems. After an eight-hour period without food, a healthy blood sugar score should be under 100.
“If you can reduce any of those numbers, you can lower your overall lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Gulati.
American Heart Month is recognized every year during February. The public is urged to reach out to physicians with concerns about heart disease risk factors.