February is American Heart Month! Learn about the dangers of cardiovascular disease

0210 Heart ExerciseSince 1963 the President has proclaimed February as American Heart Month, which is an entire month devoted to education and awareness about the dangers of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The term cardiovascular disease includes heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and other conditions related to the heart, and it is a lot more common than most people think. The American Heart Association estimates that 81.1 million Americans have some kind of CVD. CVD has been the leading cause of death in the United States since 1900 (excluding the flu epidemic in 1918), and CVD caused approximately 830,000 deaths in 2006.

The good news is that the rate of death related to CVD is decreasing, but the bad news is women are unaware of the high risk of developing CVD. Due to lack of education and awareness, many women assume CVD is more common among men, and that women need to worry more about other illnesses, like cancer. This could not be further from the truth.

0210 exerciserOne in three adult females has some form of CVD, and in 2005 approximately 454,600 women died from CVD, accounting for almost 52.6 percent of all female deaths in the United States. The rate of death among women from CVD is greater than lung cancer and breast cancer combined, and more women than men die from a heart-related illness.

To increase awareness to women about the dangers of CVD, the American Heart Association is sponsoring the Go Red for Women campaign. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about heart disease among women. This campaign has been around since 2004, and its goal is to educate women that CVD does not only affect men. The Go Red for Women movement hopes to decrease the risks associated with coronary heart disease and risk in women by 25 percent during 2010.

A major component of the campaign is to educate the public about the risk factors and preventative measures women can take to prevent the development of CVD. A woman’s age, sex, and hereditary conditions play a large role in the development of CVD. The risk of having a heart attack or stroke increases with age, especially among women. In addition, some families have genes that give members a greater chance of developing CVD.

Fortunately, lifestyle changes can help decrease a woman’s chance of developing CVD. A healthy physical body is very important to maintaining a healthy heart. Health risks include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and excess weight.

Smoking is the most preventable cause of heart disease, especially among women. Approximately 19 percent of women smoke, and women smokers are two to three times more likely of developing CVD than non-smokers. Women who smoke and take oral contraceptives have an even higher risk of heart attack and stroke than non-smoking women who take oral contraceptives.

Both high cholesterol and high blood pressure also increases a woman’s risk of CVD. High levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) raise the risk of CVD, while high levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL) decrease the risk. Overall, cholesterol levels of women tend to be higher than men starting at age 55. The chances of developing high blood pressure increase for women who are pregnant, taking certain oral contraceptives, or have reached menopause. Also African-American women tend to have higher blood pressure than Caucasian women.

A woman’s chance of having CVD increases with a lack of physical activity. An inactive person is twice as likely as an active person to develop heart disease, and only 30.1 percent of Americans perform light to moderately active for the recommended 30 minutes at least five days a week.

In addition to being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight is very important to a healthy heart. About 66 percent of adults are overweight or obese, and studies show that people with excess weight in their waists are more susceptible to health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and other CVDs. Eating foods with heart healthy nutrients, like Omega-3 fatty acids, may help reduce the risk of having CVD.

Studies have shown that moderate drinking, one drink a day for women and two a day for men, may lower the risk of heart disease; however, excessive drinking may actually increase the risk of developing a CVD. Experts do not recommend non-drinkers to begin consuming alcohol, and pregnant women should also not drink alcohol.

A trusted doctor should also be included in preventative medicine against CVD. It is a good idea to have regular checkups, especially for high-risk people. The check up will allow your doctor to check cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and weight, as well as give helpful advice and dispense any needed medication.

In celebration of American Heart Month and to emphasize the Go Red for Women campaign, there are various events during the month of February.

Local Curves locations are raising money for the American Heart Association by selling red hearts that will be on display at individual sites. Also all the sites will have trivia games to educate women and raise awareness about heart related illnesses. Curves is a fitness center designed specifically for women. Each workout lasts 30 minutes and uses various hydraulic equipment that offers stretching and aerobic exercises, as well as strength training. To help women get in shape and keep their hearts healthy, all local locations are offering 50 percent off new memberships and giving one month free. A portion of the joining fee will go to the American Heart Association.

The Go Red for Women campaign is sponsoring a National Wear Red Day on February 5. This day gives people an opportunity to spread the word about the dangers of heart disease among women, as well as show support for a heart healthier lifestyle. The campaign encourages both men and women to include red in their outfit for the entire day. The Go Red for Women website has an information packet and other tools to help people organize a Wear Red event.

People who choose to wear red at any time during the month of February can receive a discount on heart screenings at Proctor Hospital. The hospital is offering $25 (normally $35) Coronary Health Risk Assessments when patients wear red. The heart screening tests glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels, as well as records height and weight. Additionally, everyone receives an individualized health report. The assessments are offered from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and are held at various locations throughout the month of February. Please call 309-689-8334 for more information and to schedule an appointment.

A fun way to celebrate American Heart Month is to attend the 2010 Peoria Heart and Stroke Ball. This year’s black-tie event is being held at the Embassy Suites Riverfront Conference Center on February 27 and features silent and live auctions, dinner, dancing, and cocktails. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 11:00 p.m., and complimentary valet parking is available. Corporate sponsorship and table packages are also available. Contributions raised at the ball will be used to fund research and education for the American Heart Association. Please call for 309-370-2276 for more information and registration.

For more information please visit the American Heart Association at:

www.americanheart.org and the Go Red for Women website at www.goredforwomen.org.

Amanda Knowles

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