Staying heart healthy!

February is National Heart Month in the United States. Heart disease is the number one killer of all Americans, claiming the lives of about 1 million individuals every year. Did you know that:

  • African Americans are more than 30% more likely to die from heart disease than their non-Hispanic white neighbors
  • Nearly half of all African American adults aged 20 and older have heart disease
    (45% of AA men and 47% of AA women)
  • 24.5% of all deaths due to heart disease are African Americans

These are frightening statistics, but we can keep our hearts healthy for years to come.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?
Most of us can name some risk factors that lead to heart disease, but let’s go over them once again. There are two types of risk factors: controllable risk factors and non-controllable risk factors. Non-controllable risk factors are things that you can’t do anything to change. These factors include age (being 50 years old or older) and having a family history of heart disease, especially if your relative had it before age 55. Controllable  risk factors for heart disease include having hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, and/or diabetes; being obese; being sedentary (lacking physical activity); and smoking.

So what can I do if I have these risk factors?
There are several things you can do to lower your risk for heart disease.

  1. Stop smoking and/or avoid secondhand smoke. If you are a current smoker, there are many resources available to help you quit. Quitting smoking may be difficult, but you have a much higher chance of succeeding if you involve your doctor, your family, and your friends in your decision to stop. Getting involved in tobacco support groups may increase your chances of success because you will be able to talk to people who are feeling the same way you are. Talk to your doctor about what resources are available in your area to help you stop smoking.
  2. Control your blood pressure. Hypertension is defined as having blood pressure greater or equal to 140/90 mmHg. For adults with diabetes, blood pressure should be below 130/80 mmHg. Pre-hypertension, a risk factor for hypertension, is defined as having a systolic (upper number) blood pressure of 120-139 mmHg or a diastolic (lower number) blood pressure of 80-89 mmHg. Check your blood pressure regularly and make sure that your healthcare provider checks your pressure every time you go to see him or her. You can also check your blood pressure in many pharmacies, hospitals, and other locations with free blood pressure machines. If your blood pressure is above normal, discuss treatment options with your provider, including medicine, diet, and exercise.
  3. Keep your cholesterol in check. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (low density lipoprotein) andHDL(high density lipoprotein); high levels ofHDL(greater than 50mg/dl) and low levels ofLDL(less than 130mg/dl) are healthy for your heart. According to the American Heart Association, everyone who is 20 years of age and older should have a fasting lipoprotein profile every five years. If you have diabetes or heart disease, more frequent checks may be needed. If your cholesterol test comes back abnormal, discuss treatment options with your provider, including medicine, diet and exercise.
  4. Control your diabetes. If you have diabetes, it is very important to keep your blood sugar under control. Your doctor may order a glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test to determine how well your blood sugar is controlled. The higher your HbA1c is, the greater your risk for heart disease and other diabetes complications. A normal level of HbA1c is less than 7.0 percent.
  5. Control your weight. Body mass index, or BMI, is a measure that indicates our “body fatness” or level of weight control. It is based on a ratio of your weight to your height. For an adult, obesity is defined as having a BMI of greater than or equal to 30. Between 25.0 and 29.9 is considered overweight, and 18.5 to 24.9 is normal. Getting adequate physical activity (as discussed below) and eating a healthy diet can help keep your weight under control.
  6. Get active! Physical activity doesn’t have to be boring; there are plenty of ways to be active and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. According to the CDC, adults should engage in moderate-intensity physical activities for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days of the week, or engage in vigorous-intensity physical activity 3 or more days per week for 20 or more minutes per occasion. Physical activity can include anything from jogging to biking, brisk walking, swimming, and mowing the yard.

If you already have one or more of these risk factors, and especially if you have had a cardiac or cerebrovascular event (like a heart attack or stroke), it is essential to get your risk factors in check to 1) prevent further damage to your heart and the rest of your body and 2) reduce your risk of future events. Remember you should always talk to your health care provider before starting any diet or exercise routine. Together, you can help protect your heart!

Do you need further information or have questions or comments about this article? Check out the American Heart Association at or call us toll-free at 1-877-530-1824. Or, for more information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, please visit our website:

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