Matters of the Heart

February is American Heart Month. With the traditions of Valentine’s Day and its embodiment of hearts and love, there is no better time to think about being “heart-healthy”. Show your gift of love this month by educating yourself and your loved ones about heart disease, it’s risk factors, and prevention.

“Cardio” refers to the heart, and “vascular” pertains to the vessels that carry blood away from, and to the heart. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. It is the number one cause of death in women and men in the United States. 1 out of 4 deaths in America can be attributed to cardiovascular disease.

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include: having a close family member with CVD, being of African American ethnicity, being obese, using tobacco, having a sedentary lifestyle, being a diabetic, and having high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Some of these risk factors cannot be changed. However, it is possible to control a number of the risk factors by adopting healthier habits, and by managing health conditions that put you and your loved ones at risk. The following is a 6 Step Plan to help you adopt healthier habits and manage health conditions that put you and your loved ones at risk for cardiovascular disease.

  1. Check your blood pressure on a regular basis. A healthy number to shoot for is 110/70. Checking your blood pressure can be done at home with your own device, at your physician’s or health care provider’s office, or at a pharmacy. If you take medications to control high blood pressure, follow your health care providers instructions and the instructions on the prescription label carefully.
  2. Eat a heart-healthy diet. Your daily diet should be low in sodium; less than 1500 mg per day. Read food labels to determine sodium content. Your diet should also be low in saturated fats, and include 5 servings of vegetables and fruits. Remember to drink plenty of water each day. Studies have shown that diets that include fewer refined sugars and corn syrup (white sugar, candy, sodas, processed foods) also help keep the heart and vessels healthy.
  3. Exercise on a regular basis and maintain a healthy body weight. Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, and helps the heart learn to work more efficiently. It has been suggested that moderate activity should be done for 30-45 minutes at least 3 times or more per week. Try to remember to incorporate non-exercise activities into your routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Instead of choosing the closest parking space, park your car at the back of the lot and walk. Use a push mower instead of a riding mower. Shovel the snow instead of using a snow blower.
  4. Do not smoke and limit alcohol use. If you already smoke, quit as quickly as possible. Too much alcohol can increase blood pressure. Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day, women should have no more than 1.
  5. Manage your diabetes. Work with your health care provider to develop a plan to monitor and manage your diabetes.
  6. Team up with your loved one or a friend and work together to become “heart-healthy”. It is always easier to make changes when another person is doing it with you. Encourage one another and be accountable to one another. You will find that including a loved one or a friend will help you to be successful in your journey to becoming “heart-healthy”.


Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of Americans. Many risk factors can be changed, and health conditions can be controlled, helping you and your loved one reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Adopting healthier habits in order to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease is a lifelong approach. It could be discouraging if you try to make all the necessary changes overnight.  Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and remember that every small step makes a difference in becoming “heart-healthy”.

vickiheadshot-[500x500]]Vicki Eckersel is a Bachelor’s prepared RN who believes that the power of patient-centered education has the ability to promote healing and well being. Her love of nursing runs deep over the past 20 years, through nearly every area of health care, including management. While her favorite hobby is being a mother, she often says that being an RN is a close second. Fortunately, the two blend well in a crazy home filled with nine wonderful people and one lovable dog. She hopes one day to combine her love of nursing with travel to serve those in need in foreign lands.