It’s American Heart month which means there’s an uprise in commercials, magazine covers and awareness campaigns going on to educate and entice us. How many times do we see these and just keep on keeping on without much thought? We think that is for “other people” or “heart attacks only happen to (insert an adjective) type people.” The reality is we are those people. Heart disease doesn’t discriminate and it can become a sudden and saddening reality to anyone of us young or old, healthy weight or overweight, male or female. Heart disease isn’t about “other people,” it’s about anyone with a heart.

If you have a heart, heart disease is something you need to be aware of. Heart disease steals the life of a woman every 80 seconds! Those are mothers, sisters, teachers, nurses, soldiers, and maybe even someone you love. But heart disease isn’t just about women, the CDC tells us that one in every four deaths is to heart disease, claiming the lives of about 610,000 people in the United States every year. In 2017 the population of Orleans County was only 26,841 so that’s like wiping out 22 Orleans Counties a year! Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women with more than half of 2009 heart disease related deaths being men. What’s more? Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and of these only 210,000 of them aren’t for the first time. Heart disease is real and it’s a life stealing disease.

Waiting to take your heart health more seriously is quite frankly irresponsible and naïve to the life threatening disease. There is never a better time to take your heart health seriously than right now. No one needs to wait to hear they are at a greater risk for heart disease because we know that the numbers are too great a risk to count ourselves out. Marathon runners get heart disease as well as couch potatoes. Really healthy eaters can have a stroke just like someone who eats garbage, but did you know that they are more likely to recover than the sedentary and over indulgent eater?

The American Heart Association says, “One of the biggest contributors to these statistics is a lack of commitment to a heart healthy lifestyle. Your lifestyle is not only your best defense against heart disease and stroke, it’s also your responsibility.” Are you taking this responsibility seriously? Have you thought about what your life might be life should you suffer a heart attack, stroke or other repercussions of taking health precautions lightly? Every day in all you do and eat you are making strides towards or away from heart disease. That’s not to say that you can guarantee you won’t get it, but you can certainly safe guard yourself and slow your chances.

What you eat directly affects your heart health. Your heart is what pumps your blood, which is filled with oxygen to your brain, keeping your body functioning. Think about it, you would never want to restrict oxygen to a child or even a pet, right? Then why would you want to do that to yourself over something like food? High fat and cholesterol foods can cause blockages and affect how efficiently your heart can work. It can overwork the heart and in some cases clog the arteries, making it more likely for you to form blood clots. A heart attack is when a blood clot is blocking one of your arteries, preventing blood and oxygen flow to the brain and the rest of the body, and may be causing irreversible damage.

So how do we try to prevent this? Eat healthy low-fat and high fiber foods that are lower in calories and higher in nutrients. Lean proteins like chicken, some fish, and even low-fat dairy are all much safer for your heart than say red meat and processed fatty foods. Sodium also plays a key role in heart health. Look for foods that are naturally low in sodium or have at least 20% or less sodium per serving. When it comes to sodium less is best. Same goes for sugars, look for lower sugar food options. “Low” fat, sodium and sugar foods doesn’t mean you have to feel punished at every meal and eat like a bird, but it may mean rethinking how you fuel your body. Before you think of this as a punishment, think of your food as either a reward towards greater health or maybe a catalyst towards disease.

We cannot continue to eat however we please and whenever we please if we want to live long heart-healthy lives. What we put on our plates is in effect a representation of how we expect to feel. Think of that while grocery shopping, ordering at a restaurant and even when choosing foods for your kids. The practices we make now are key to how we expect to feel later.

Of course, exercise and stress management are also key pieces to this heart healthy puzzle as well and you will see more of that in our column later this month! Until then, talk to your physician about your risks toward heart disease and what you can be doing to best prevent it or to live healthier with it if you are someone already living with heart disease. And always, if you think you might be having symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, call 9-1-1! Don’t ever count yourself out because you never know when you might become one of the four. After all, we have to remember, heart disease isn’t about other people, and it’s about anyone with a heart!