“Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life,” says the author of the book of Proverbs, demonstrating that even in 700 B.C. — long before the advantages of modern medicine — our ancestors had an understanding (if an unsophisticated one) of the heart as center of human well-being.
February is American Heart Month, an initiative encouraging people to engage in a national conversation about heart-healthy lifestyles.
There’s never been a better time to evaluate your risk for heart disease and take steps to prevent its onset. Remember: Heart disease isn’t just something that happens to old people.
Conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure among people ages 35 and up are putting more Americans than ever at risk for cardiac complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC also says that fully half of all Americans have one or more of the top three risk factors for heart disease — the deadly triad of smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
So what can you do this February to protect the wellspring of your life?
First, do yourself a favor and quit smoking. More than 34 million American adults smoke, and smoking is a sure-fire way to damage your blood vessels (not to mention your lungs) and drive yourself to an early grave. In fact, the CDC says smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Second, watch your cholesterol. Eating healthy foods and getting more physical activity are some easy ways to lower your cholesterol. Make conscious, heart-healthy choices: Cut back on trans-fat, added sugars, sodas and saturated fats.
Third, cooperate with your doctor and treatment team if you suffer from high blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, high blood pressure can lead to all kinds of undesirable consequences, like heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, weakened blood vessels and even dementia. So take all prescribed medications. Your heart’s health isn’t something you should take for granted — or gamble away.
Making deliberate and sustained life changes — real ones that stick — isn’t always easy. So if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones: About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, and nearly 5 million Americans currently are living with congestive heart failure. The lifestyle choices you make today could be the funeral they plan tomorrow.
So take control of your health, for their sake. Don’t become a statistic — or a cautionary tale.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.