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July 6, 2022

Guest Column | A Heart Shape Defines February, But Let’s Look Beyond the Emoji

The obvious symbol for the month of February is, of course, the heart. This ideograph — represented by an anatomically inaccurate shape, by the way — appears on greeting cards, love letters and ever-popular, emoji-filled texts.

Yes, February is all about love, especially romantic love, but it’s also Heart Health Month, a time when all of us can focus on our cardiovascular health.

Sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in our country. Every 36 seconds, one American dies from cardiovascular disease. Think about that.

Heart disease takes a financial toll, too. It costs our country nearly $400 billion each year, including the cost of healthcare services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death.

At Mee Memorial Healthcare System, we consider ourselves the heartbeat of South County. We take seriously our motto “Healthcare with Heart,” and offer an extensive array of services — from routine checkups, to chronic care and emergencies. As the only hospital within 45 minutes of King City, our facility provides acute care, outpatient and emergency services via 25 acute care and 48 skilled nursing beds.

Throughout February the entire MMHS family will take up the cause behind Heart Health Month. Each year more than 800,000 Americans die from a heart attack, and we will do all we can to protect our friends and neighbors from such a fate.

There is a lot we all can do to be heart healthy, and it starts with understanding your risk, making choices, and taking steps to reduce your chances of getting heart disease.

Coronary and other types of heart disease cause heart attacks, but by taking preventive measures, we can lower our risk of developing heart disease and also improve our overall health and well-being. 

When you choose healthy behaviors, you can lower your heart disease risk while also preventing other serious chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and some kinds of cancer.

Here are seven strategies from the CDC to live a heart-healthy lifestyle:

  1. Learn your health history: Know your risks and talk to your family and your doctor about health history on both sides.
  2. Eat a heart-healthy diet: Make healthful food choices such as more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Eat less salt, saturated fat, and added sugar. And work hard to control your portions, because how much you eat is just as important as what you eat.
  3. Move more, sit less: Being physically active is a major step toward good heart health. It’s one of your most effective tools for strengthening the heart muscle, keeping your weight under control and warding off the artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, plus muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week.
  4. Quit smoking: Over time, quitting tobacco will lower your risk of atherosclerosis and blood clots. If you smoke and already have heart disease, quitting will reduce your risk of sudden cardiac death, a second heart attack, and death from other chronic diseases. Start your quit plan today. Take the first step and call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free support.
  5. Take medicines as directed: If you take medicine to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something. Never stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.
  6. Rethink your drink: Substitute water for sugary drinks to reduce calories. According to a recent study, people who regularly drink either sugary drinks or artificially sweetened beverages have a higher risk of stroke and heart disease than those who avoid sugary drinks. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
  7. Monitor your blood pressure at home: High blood pressure can damage your arteries by making them less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and leads to heart disease. Self-measured blood pressure monitors (SMBPs) are easy and safe to use, and your doctor can show you how to use one if you need help.

What’s absent from that list? I would say it’s stress. We can’t always prevent or avoid it, but we can all change how we respond to it. When we’re under stress, our heart rate increases and our blood vessels narrow. That’s not healthy! Research shows that stress can make us more likely to get heart disease and have a heart attack.

The origins of heart disease begin at a young age, so the earlier in life you learn how to de-stress, the happier you and your heart will be. So try to listen to your body and the signals it gives, and find a relaxation response that works for you — whether it’s meditation, breathing, yoga, art, exercise or even counseling. Learning to manage stress is an important tool in our overall wellness.

One more word about heart health. As a woman, it’s important that I share the horrific statistic that heart disease kills one woman approximately every 80 seconds, taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiac events are on the rise in young women in their 20s. At the same time, recent market research has indicated that the youngest, most diverse groups of women are the least aware that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat.

That’s why I’m calling on all women (and men) in the community to help fight heart disease by supporting American Heart Month in February, a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health. The Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention is shining a light on hypertension (high blood pressure), a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Let’s help ignite a wave of good health from coast to coast, as a groundswell of support helps in a common goal: to eliminate the ravages of heart disease.

As we send out our Valentine’s Day cards, and fill our social media feeds with a big, red, misshapen heart icon, let’s also keep in mind the real hearts beating inside our chests.

There is peace and comfort in the regular beating and the sound of the human heart. It’s a bioengineering marvel, beating 2.5 billion times in an average lifespan. It’s imperative that we help make sure everyone gets as many beats as possible.

Rena Salamacha
CEO, Mee Memorial Healthcare System
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