By Daphne Foreman
For a short month, February is long on signature images: cupids and hearts, George Washington and Honest Abe, icons of Black History Month....
However, the hearts of February are not only for Valentine's Day—celebrating February as National Heart Month in the U.S. reaches back to a proclamation by then-president Lyndon B. Johnson in December 1963 naming February 1964 as the first American Heart Month.
From very early in my childhood, I remember helping my mother with February fundraising for the local Heart Association chapter in Salisbury, NC. For me, all the red and white balloons were the main attraction; for my mother, it was more personal, as she had had successful surgery to correct a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), which in the early 1950s was a more invasive bit of business than it is today.
Starting with National Wear Red Day® on Friday, February 3, 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) helps maximize the shortest month of the year by filling it with important and actionable information related to heart health and heart disease prevention and treatment.
National Wear Red Day, being observed for the 15th year in 2017, functions as a combination awareness event, fundraiser, and opportunity to show support for women with heart disease and stroke. To learn how you can get involved, spend some time at goredforwomen.org.
While heart disease is strongly associated with men, the facts of heart disease in women are chilling: 1 in 3 deaths among women are attributed to heart disease and stroke, or approximately one death every 80 seconds.
A new health initiative associated with National Wear Red Day is #GoRedGetFit, a Facebook group that features a variety of health and fitness challenges for women, powered by professional trainers.
Living With Heart Disease
More and more people are learning to live with heart disease, and advancements in treatment of stroke have increased those survival rates.
The American Heart Association's Living With Heart Disease online resource covers topics ranging from using Tai Chi as part of a stroke rehabilitation plan, to talking to your children about heart disease. Very few stones are left unturned, as articles address everything from depression, to caring for a person with heart disease, to sex after diagnosis.
Three keys to living well with a heart disease diagnosis are:
- Following your doctor's advice
- Making positive lifestyle and dietary changes
- Getting the physical and emotional support you need
The My Life Check health self-assessment is a tool designed by the American Heart Association / American Stroke Association to help individuals assess their current cardiovascular health and identify steps to take to improve both health and quality of life.
You also can minimize negative aha moments by understanding the risk factors for stroke and heart disease and by knowing five key numbers identified by the AHA:
- Total cholesterol
- HDL (good) cholesterol
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
- Body mass index (BMI)
To learn more about specific heart conditions in order to be a more informed patient or caregiver, visit the Interactive Cardiovascular Library, Watch, Learn, and Live. Also, take the time to maintain—or adopt—a lifestyle that includes heart-healthy diet and exercise choices.
Getting the Support You Need
Whether you are living with heart disease, or caring for someone who is living with heart disease, it's important to know that you are not alone.
The American Heart Association / American Stroke Association Support Network offers online communities specific to heart disease, stroke, pediatric stroke, congenital heart disease, chronic heart conditions, and rehab and recovery. There also is a designated caregiver community.
These online communities provide an opportunity to share your stories of living with heart disease or stroke, to ask questions of others who've faced what you're facing, and to receive emotional support—which is such an important aspect of living with heart disease.
Comprehensive resources for caregivers include tips on physical activity and nutrition, self-check plans, worksheets, FAQs, advice on communicating with healthcare professionals, and guidance for understanding how people change after a diagnosis or incident, along with concrete steps for supporting both the patient and the caregiver.
Join us for #GoRedWearRed this February—and become better informed—for yourself and for those you love.
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Check out our Heart Month Infographic too!