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February is American Heart Month: It’s Time to Listen to Your Heart.

Many people associate February with Valentine’s Day, when hearts can be found wherever you look. However, February is also American Heart Month—a time to raise awareness that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Spreading knowledge about heart health can be one of the best gifts we can give to those around us, so let’s get heart smart and review some critical information to keep those hearts beating!

Do You Know the Signs? 
A heart attack is a scary thing to think about. If you’ve had one or are close to someone who has, you’re not alone. Many people survive a heart attack and go on to enjoy productive lives. Early care is crucial for a good outcome, and we must know what to look for. Let’s review the most common heart attack warning signs according to the American Heart Association. 
1.    Pain or discomfort in the chest
2.    Lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting
3.    Jaw, neck, or back pain
4.    Discomfort or pain in the arm or shoulder
5.    Shortness of breath

Heart attacks are the #1 killer of women, but their symptoms can differ from those men experience. For instance, they can be more subtle and more likely to be overlooked. Heart attack symptoms for women can include the following:
1.    Chest / upper abdomen pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain
2.    Upper back pressure or squeezing
3.    Flu-like symptoms or extreme fatigue
4.    Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
5.    Shortness of breath – with or without chest discomfort
6.    Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
7.    Cold sweat or nausea with vomiting

When it Comes to the Heart, Knowledge is Power.
There are several risk factors for heart disease, and not all are in your control. Still, knowing your risks is crucial in looking for ways to modify your activities, habits, or decisions and improve your heart health. While risk factors can differ from person to person, the American Heart Association considers the following to be risk factors for heart disease:
1.    Know your numbers:  having high blood pressure or high cholesterol 
2.    Being overweight or obese
3.    Having Prediabetes or diabetes
4.    Smoking
5.    Not getting regular physical activity
6.     A family history of early heart disease 
7.    Unhealthy eating behaviors
8.    Being age 55 or older for women or age 45 or older for men

Taking on heart disease can seem daunting for many of us. After all, changing one’s lifestyle is not an easy thing! However, some changes are easier than others, and even small changes can affect our heart health. Consider these six tips to keep your heart healthy for yourself and those you love:
1.    Eat more fruits/veggies
2.    Reduce sodium in your diet (salt)
3.    Incorporate physical activity 
4.    Sleep 7 hours/night
5.    See your doctor regularly 
6.    Reduce/quit smoking

Working to reduce even one or two risk factors is significantly better than not making any changes at all. Moreover, changes can be made gradually or one at a time.  Recognizing risks and taking steps to make changes is vital. 
This Valentine’s Day, consider this—your health is more important to your loved ones than any gift you can buy from a store. Likewise, sharing information about heart health with your friends and family shows love and caring. The heart is a symbol of love, but in more ways than one!