February a time to feel the love - for your heart

February is a month devoted to matters of the heart.

With Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 — wait, that’s not what we’re talking about here! February is American Heart Month, a time when people are encouraged to focus on cardiovascular health.

For those who didn’t pay attention in health class — or are too many years removed to remember — the heart is the primary organ in the circulation system, pumping blood throughout the body, carrying oxygen to every cell. After delivering the oxygen, the blood returns to the heart, which sends it back to the lungs to pick up more oxygen.

Unfortunately, almost half of all Americans have at least one of three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, killing almost 385,000 men in 2021 — that’s about 1 in every 4 male deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Half of the men who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.

More than 60 million women — or 44 percent — in this country are living with some for of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for women. In 2021, it was responsible for the deaths of almost 311,000 women — or about one in every five female deaths. Research has shown that only about half of US women recognize that heart disease is their No. 1 killer.

While heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, it often can be prevented.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers these tips to protect heart health.

1. Get enough quality sleep

That means seven to nine hours of sleep at night for must adults to reduce the risk of having high blood pressure, heart disease and other medical conditions.

2. Eat better

Choose foods low in saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. Try a mix of lean cuts of meat, eat fish once or twice a week and eat two or more meatless meals each week. Consider whole fruits, dried fruits, unsalted rice cakes, fat-free and low-fat yogurt or raw vegetables as a snack.

3. Maintain a healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight can help keep cholesterol and blood pressure in healthy ranges, which will reduce the chance of a heart attack or stroke.

4. Be more active

Adults should spend at least 150 minutes each week doing physical activity. Take the stairs, park farther away, march in place or take a walk around the block. Try muscle-strengthening activities like lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing sit-ups and push-ups or some forms of yoga.

5. Stop smoking

Any amount of smoking damages the heart and blood vessels. Call (800) QUIT NOW or visit http://www.smokefree.gov to get additional support.

The CDC also recommends limiting alcohol to one drink a day, lowering stress levels and being tested for diabetes, as diabetics have a higher risk of heart disease.

What else can be done? UChicago Medicine Advent Health Hinsdale is offering two heart screening specials.

The $75 heart scan is recommended for men 35 and older and women 45 and older with either a family history of heart disease or high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

The $99 vascular screening is for people 55 and older who have a family history of heart disease, are overweight and are a current or former smoker. Call (855) 206-2418 or visit http://www.ChicagolandHeartExperts.com to schedule.