Listen to your heart this month. No, really.


February may be the month of Groundhog Day and the month for the perpetually romantic, but it also is the month to celebrate the ol’ ticker, the one thing Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz” yearned for: the heart.

What you need to know

American Heart Month is in full swing and it’s important you know the facts:

Fact 1: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 1-in-every-4 deaths in the United States are caused by heart disease. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease.

Fact 2: Nine-out-of-10 heart disease patients have at least one risk factor, according to the CDC. Medical conditions and lifestyle choices that put you at risk include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, obesity/ being overweight, smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity and alcohol use.
Fact 3: Heart disease is costly; it accounts for $1 of every $6 spent on health care. What’s more, in 2010, heart disease and stroke hospitalizations (a condition that can be caused by heart disease) cost the nation more than $444 billion in healthcare expenses and lost productivity.
Fact 4: The roots of your family tree can influence your health: If a parent or a sibling experiences a heart attack or stroke, for example, you are more likely to have one as well. What’s more, your age and race also influence your likelihood of having heart disease or related conditions.
Fact 5: Your income can influence the likelihood of developing a heart attack or stroke, according to the Million Hearts campaign. Such factors as early life environment, quality of health education, availability of nutritious food, proximity to recreational facilities, cultural and financial barriers to seeking treatment, and accessibility of cardiovascular care.

What can you do?

  1. Check out the Life’s Simply 7 Action Plan from the American Heart Association for a heart assessment. Once you receive your assessment, the AHA guides users through ways to improve your life.
  2. Learn the warning signs of a heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest here. If you feel you have any of these conditions, seek medical attention immediately.
  3. Make an appointment to see your physician or visit a pharmacist or retail clinic for a blood-pressure reading. Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can put you at risk for heart disease and other related conditions. Such retailers as Walgreens and Rite Aid have kicked off heart health campaigns and are offering free blood-pressure readings and consultations. To find out what qualifies as good, bad or dangerous blood-pressure levels, click here.
  4. Learn your ABCS: The CDC and other parts of the U.S. government launched last year the Million Hearts campaign, an initiative designed to help reduce the incidence of heart disease and encourage people to make heart-healthy choices. The “ABCS” include the following practices: taking aspirin if you are at risk of heart disease, controlling your blood pressure, managing your cholesterol and smoking cessation (a.k.a. “kicking butts”). It may seem elementary, but it can save your life.
  5. If “the way through [one’s] heart is through the stomach,” make it a point to eat heart-healthy foods, including fiber-rich cereals, fruits and vegetables.

For more information about heart disease and related conditions, visit the American Heart Association’s website, Heart.org.