February is American Heart Month, first designated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1963 to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease. We take for granted that our hearts beat 80 to 90 times per minute, year after year, bringing oxygen and nutrients to every part of our body. So much of our health depends on the heart, the circulatory system it serves, and the nutrient-filled blood it pumps.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America,” said Dr. Miguel Nunez-Burgos, a primary care clinician at Kinwell’s Mill Creek location. “Nearly 50% of U.S adults currently have some form of cardiovascular disease, including hypertension or high blood pressure. The prevalence increases with age. More than 75% of persons aged 60 to 79 have cardiovascular disease. According to data from Framingham Heart Study, it’s estimated that cardiovascular disease will affect 1 in 3 women and 2 in 3 men.”

Known as the “silent killer,” heart disease often goes unnoticed until it’s too late. A heart-healthy lifestyle remains the most effective way to prevent heart disease. The American Heart Association has created a list of seven metrics for good health known as “Life’s Simple 7.” They are optimal cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels; healthy diet and body mass index; physical activity; and the avoidance of tobacco.

Here are some tips to maintain a strong and healthy heart.

Know your family history

According to Dr. Nunez-Burgos, “A family history of premature cardiovascular disease—that is in males younger than 55 years or females younger than 65 years—doubles the risk for heart attack in men and increases the risk in women by 70%.”

Check your blood pressure

The most common test to evaluate heart health is blood pressure. According to the American Medical Association, the most accurate blood pressure measurements are taken with a blood pressure cuff. The properly sized cuff should be placed around the bare upper arm of a patient who is rested, seated upright with legs uncrossed, their feet flat on the floor. The cuff is then inflated so that no blood can flow through the arteries below. As the cuff is deflated, the pressure at which blood flows again can be measured.

Know your numbers

Blood is pushed through veins with each heart beat, and coasts between beats. This is why there are two blood pressure (BP) numbers. The higher “pumping” number is called systolic (from the Greek word for “contraction”), and the lower number is called diastolic (from the Greek word for “drawing apart”). Read our accompanying article on BP numbers for more information on their meaning.

Maintain a heart healthy weight

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), weight and the percentage of body fat are the other leading indicators of heart disease. Body mass index (BMI) is the common tool to determine healthy weight, but in 2023 the American Medical Association acknowledged the limitations of this measurement. While the NHLBI’s BMI calculator is still a useful tool to determine your ideal weight, it is only one of several indicators your clinician will assess.

Kinwell offers the services of behavioral health specialists and health coaches to assist patients in achieving healthy weight goals. Established Kinwell patients can ask their clinicians if these services are right for them.

Keep your heart fit

A healthy heart requires a mix of nutritious food and regular exercise. The Mayo Clinic recommends a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat protein. Try to avoid excess amounts of unhealthy fats, sodium, and sugar. Johns Hopkins Medicine suggest an exercise routine that combines aerobic exercise, resistance training, and stretching for flexibility.

According to Dr. Nunez-Burgos, “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults perform at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week. Ideally this is spread throughout the week. Muscle-strengthening activities should be performed at least two days per week.”

Manage stress

The American Heart Association notes that chronic stress can lead to a variety of harmful behaviors such as overeating; lack of exercise and sleep; and the use of tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drugs. All of these behaviors can contribute to heart disease by raising blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Manage stress by making time for regular exercise, positive social interactions, and restorative sleep.

Show your heart some love, not just in February but all year long. Schedule an appointment with a Kinwell clinician to discuss any heart health concerns you may have. Just call 833-411-5469 or schedule through your MyChart app.