American Heart Month: Spotlight on cardiovascular health

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Did you know February is American Heart Month? It’s the perfect time to learn a bit about cardiovascular disease. Also, review the risk factors, and discover how to improve your health.

It’s critical to always have cardiovascular health in mind. American Heart Month makes it easy to remember it.

What is American Heart Month?

It’s a month of awareness for the health of one of your most critical organs: the heart. Emphasis is often on reducing the risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure. Hypertension is a leading cause of heart disease.

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular diseases cover many issues. Many relate to atherosclerosis, which occurs when plaque builds up on the artery walls. This narrows the arteries, degrading the blood’s ability to flow through them. A blood clot can block blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke.

What are the risk factors?

Risks determine the chances a person might contract heart disease. And it hinges on several factors — some of which are changeable. Risk factors vary by person.

  • Are age 55 or older for women, 45 or older for men
  • Being overweight
  • Being sedentary
  • Eating an unhealthy diet high in:
    • Fat
    • Sodium
    • Sugar
  • Having a family history of early heart disease
    • If your brother or father had a diagnosis by age 55
    • If your mother or sister had a diagnosis by age 65
  • Having diabetes, gestational diabetes, or prediabetes
  • Having a history of preeclampsia (This is having a sudden elevation in blood pressure and excess protein in the urine during pregnancy)
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Misusing prescription or recreational drugs
  • Overusing alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Vaping

Every risk factor raises the odds of developing heart disease. These odds increase with each risk.


Heart disease affects not only the heart but also the blood vessels. It is a top cause of death for American men and women. You can take measures to protect your heart and improve cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular disease often includes symptoms, but might not. It can cause:

  • Faulty heart valves
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Narrowing of blood vessels in your heart and other organs
  • Heart- and blood-vessel issues from birth

Examples of heart disease include:

  • Aortic disease: Issues such as an aneurysm or dilation. This affects the large blood vessel that pushes blood around the body.
  • Arrhythmia: Trouble with your heart’s electrical conduction system. It can cause abnormal heart rhythms or heart rates.
  • Cerebrovascular disease: Narrowing or blockages. These are issues with the vessels that deliver blood to the brain.
  • Congenital heart disease: Heart problems from birth.
  • Coronary artery disease: It’s the most common kind. Coronary artery disease is blockages and other heart blood vessel issues.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): Blockage in the veins and vessels that carry blood from your body to your heart.
  • Heart failure: Difficulty with the heart’s pumping and relaxing functions. It can cause fluid buildup and shortness of breath.
  • Pericardial disease: Trouble with the lining of your heart. This includes pericarditis (swelling) and pericardial effusions. (This is excess fluid in the sac-like lining around the heart).
  • Peripheral artery disease: Problems with the blood vessels of the:
    • Abdomen
    • Arms
    • Legs

This can lead to blockages or narrowing of the blood vessels.

  • Valve disease: Tightening or leaking of the heart valves. Valves permit blood to flow from one chamber to another chamber or blood vessel.

How to prevent cardiovascular diseases

Physical activity is key to improving your heart health. It can help prevent a heart attack or stroke. An active lifestyle can help:

  • Guard against artery damage from:
    • High blood pressure
    • High blood sugar
    • High cholesterol
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Strengthen your heart muscle

Heart health includes three main factors:

  • Making healthy choices
    • Eating healthy foods
    • Increasing physical activity
  • Understanding risk, some of which can’t be changed, such as:
    • Age
    • Family history of early heart disease
    • Gender

If you’re at risk, you need to make gradual changes, over time. But deciding to change them is essential.


It helps to have a variety of exercises for fitness. The three most important factors for heart health:

  • AEROBIC EXERCISE: It enhances circulation, which can reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Aerobic exercise helps your heart pump more efficiently. This is known as cardiac output. It can also decrease type 2 diabetes risk or help control blood glucose if you already have it.
    • Duration: 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
    • Examples: Heart-pumping, moderate activity, including:
      • Brisk walking
      • Cycling
      • Jumping rope
      • Playing tennis
      • Running
      • Swimming 
  • RESISTANCE TRAINING: Also known as strength training. This impacts body composition. For those who carry excess fat, including a bulging belly, it can help lower fat and build lean muscle mass. Combining aerobic exercise and resistance training can boost healthy cholesterol levels (HDL). It can also reduce harmful cholesterol levels (LDL).
    • Duration: At least two days per week with rest in between.
    • Examples: Working out with:
      • Body resistance training:
        • Chin-ups
        • Push-ups
        • Squats
      • Free weights
        • Barbells or dumbbells
        • Hand weights
      • Resistance bands
      • Weight machines
  • BALANCE, FLEXIBILITY, AND STRETCHING: They benefit musculoskeletal health. They can ensure that you stay flexible. Doing so can prevent cramping, joint pain, and other muscular problems. Plus, flexibility is vital to most aerobic exercises and resistance training. Balance and flexibility help with your stability and prevention of falls.
    • Duration: Daily, before and after other exercises.
    • Examples:
      • Basic stretches (find them on DVDs and YouTube, or from a doctor)
      • Tai Chi
      • Yoga

Wilmington Health can help assess your heart health

The cardiology team at Wilmington Health offers TRUE Care. Wilmington Health can make efficient and accurate diagnoses of heart and vascular conditions. We provide preventive care focused on slowing the process of atherosclerosis with the latest technology and effective treatment.

Your care team will help you with:

  • Behavioral interventions
  • Diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • Lifestyle modification
  • Medications

We seek to improve health status, enhance the quality of life, and increase life expectancy. Contact the Wilmington Health cardiology team today.

Dr. Craig McCotter is a cardiologist at Wilmington Health and is board certified in cardiac electrophysiology, cardiovascular disease, and internal medicine.