Heart month

February is Heart Month, those few weeks when what we should be thinking about all year long receive particular attention.

Cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) is a leading cause of death for Canadian men and women, so it is important to understand how to prevent them. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk.

According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, most people think of heart disease as one condition. But in fact, heart disease is a group of conditions affecting the structure and functions of the heart and has many root causes.

Coronary artery disease, for example, develops when a combination of fatty materials, calcium and scar tissue (called plaque) builds up in the arteries that supply blood to your heart (coronary arteries). The plaque buildup narrows the arteries and prevents the heart from getting enough blood.

There are a number of risk factors a person can’t control, such as age, gender (Men over the age of 55 and postmenopausal women are at greater risk of heart disease).

Other factors include family history, ethnicity (First Nations people and those of African or South Asian descent are more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes and therefore are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke than the general population) and prior stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack).

But the good news is that, again according to the Foundation, heart disease is both preventable and manageable.

The best defense is controlling the risk factors that could lead to coronary artery disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and being overweight.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, there are treatments to help you manage your illness. You can further reduce your risk by considering these heart-healthy steps – being smoke-free, being physically active, knowing and controling your blood pressure, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol use and reducing stress.

On the local front, the Heart Month kick-off runs Feb. 1 at the Red Deer Rebels games at the Centrium, starting at 7 p.m. Come to the game dressed in Red to show support for the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

Residents can also watch for the door to door campaign. Volunteers throughout Red Deer and Central Alberta will be canvassing door to door throughout the month of February. If they miss you, you can still make a donation, online at heartandstroke.ca.

Over the past 60 years, thanks to the work of the Foundation and their partners, the death rate from heart disease and stroke in Canada has declined by more than 75% That’s 165,000 survivors that were created in this past year alone.

Help create more survivors.