It was hard to escape the heart themed decorations in stores this month in celebration of Valentine’s Day. However, doctors want you to think about caring for your physical heart this month – not just the emotional one. Last year President Barack Obama signed a proclamation designating February as American Heart Month, as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention heart disease accounts for 600,000 deaths each year – that’s 1 out of every 4 deaths. Approximately 715,000 people have a heart attack every year and for more than 25 percent it’s not their first.

Often people die from a heart attack because they ignored the warning signs. Know the signs. Signs of a heart attack may include; shortness of breath, pain or tightness in the chest, arms, back, neck or stomach and nausea, cold sweat or lightheadedness. If you start experiencing any of these symptoms call 911 immediately. 
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina, W.D. and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine at UTMB, offers the following five steps to a healthier heart:
  • Heart disease can be reversed. Work done by Dean Ornish as described in his books like “Love and Survival” show how a low animal fat, essentially vegetarian diet, relaxation exercises like meditation and yoga, and forgiveness exercises opened coronary arteries and improved blood flow.
  • The Mediterranean diet might be the world’s most heart-healthy diet. Despite having twice the fat content of the standard American Heart Association diet, it provided risk reduction of over 40 percent in patients who had recent heart attacks. With its improved flavor, healthy fats like olive oil and fish, whole grains, lots of vegetables, garlic and even a bit of red wine, people were more likely to stick with this diet and better protect their hearts.
  • Depression is related to heart disease. Depressed people had poorer outcomes if they had heart disease and increased attacks after a first heart attack.
  • An aspirin a day is even better than an apple a day. Two are better than one. A review article in 2010 by cardiologist James Dalen concluded that 162 mg is more effective than the usually prescribed single 81 mg baby aspirin in reducing heart attack and stroke risk. Higher doses might lead to increased risk of bleeding.
  • Eat fish at least once a week, especially cold- water fish like wild-caught salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and halibut. Doing so substantially reduces the risk of heart attack and sudden death. For those with known heart disease or risk factors like high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure, supplementing with 2,000 mg of fish oil daily will provide added benefit.
So as you indulge in leftover Valentine candy, think about your heart. Consider trading your box of chocolates for a hearty apple.