Heart month pumps drive toward healthier living

Each February, the country celebrates American Heart Month by endeavoring to adopt healthy lifestyles to prevent heart disease.

Focusing on one’s heart health has never been more important. People with poor cardiovascular health are also at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Heart disease remains a leading cause of death in the U.S. The National Blood, Heart and Lungs Institute of the National Institutes of Health has designated each day of the week with a different self-care theme and hashtag.

• Kick of the week with #SelfcareSunday by creating your health checklist for the week.

• #MindfulMonday is the time to check your blood pressure numbers and other heart stats.

• Try a delicious, heart-healthy recipe on #TastyTuesday.

• Put your heart into your fitness routine on #WellnessWednesday.

• On #TreatYourselfThursday, show your heart some relaxation and fun.

• Share who inspires you to show your heart more love on #FollowFriday.

• Inspire friends on #SelfieSaturday by posting about your favorite way to take care of your heart.

Of course, leaning into these good habits can only be optimized by managing factors that can adversely impact heart health. Follow these suggestions from the American Heart Association, Mayo Clinic, the Heart Foundation and the CDC to reduce your risk of heart-related medical issues.

• Be smoke free

Smoking doubles the risk of a heart attack and triples the risk of stroke.

• Manage cholesterol levels

High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Total cholesterol levels of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter are considered desirable for adults. A reading between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high and a reading of 240 mg/dL and above is considered high.

• Manage blood pressure

Experiencing high blood pressure over a long period of time is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. A reading under 120/80 is considered optimal. Readings up to 129/80 are considered elevated. Readings of 130-139/80- 89 indicate Stage 1 hypertension and those of 140/90 or higher mark Stage 2 hypertension.

• Manage diabetes

Type 2 diabetes raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol, raising the risk for heart disease and stroke.

• Be physically active

A good starting goal is 150 minutes a week, with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommending 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Find forms of exercise that are enjoyable and build more opportunities to be active in your daily routine.

• Enjoy a heart-healthy diet

Control portion size, eat more fruits and vegetables, select whole grains, limit unhealthy fats, choose low-fat protein sources, reduce sodium intake, create daily menus and allow an occasional treat to achieve a healthier diet.

• Look after your mental health

Those who have depression, are socially isolated or do not have good social supports can have a greater risk of heart disease.

So use these last few days of American Heart Month as a springboard into a lifestyle that promotes heart health throughout the year.