During the month of February, Americans see the human heart as the symbol of love. February is American Heart Month, a time to show yourself the love. Learn how your risks for heart disease and stroke stay “heart healthy” for yourself and your loved ones.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. It is the leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities. CVD costs the United States over $300 billion each year, including the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

CVD does not affect all groups of people in the same way. Although the number of preventable deaths has declined in people aged 65 to 74 years, it has remained unchanged in people under age 65. Men are more than twice as likely as women to die from preventable CVD.

Having a close relative who has heart disease puts you at higher risk for CVD. Health disparities based on geography also exist. During the years 2007 through 2009, death rates due to heart disease were the highest in the South and lowest in the West.

Race and ethnicity also affect risk. Nearly 44 percent of African American men and 48 percent of African American women have some form of CVD. African Americans are more likely than any other racial ethnic group to have high blood pressure and to develop the condition earlier in life. About 2 in 5 African American adults have high blood pressure, yet fewer than half of them have the condition under control.

Many CVD deaths could have been prevented through healthier habits, healthier living spaces, and better management of conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.

A person can control a number of risk factors for CVD, including: diet, physical activity, tobacco use, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.

As a person begins their journey to better heart health as a lifetime commitment. Try not to become overwhelmed. Every step brings a person closer to a healthier heart, and every health choice makes a difference. Partner up. The journey is more fun and often more successful when people have company. Ask friends and family to join in on the healthy journey. Don’t get discouraged. A person may not be able to take all the steps at one time. Getting a good night’s sleep is also important for a healthy heart. Find fun things to do to decrease stress. Round up some colleagues for a lunchtime walk, join a singing group, or have a healthy dinner with family and friends.

Work with a health care team. Getting a checkup at least once a year is recommended for health prevention. Monitor blood pressure and have cholesterol levels checked. Together people can help fight heart disease.

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