While February is most commonly associated with Valentine’s Day, for over 50 years it has also been recognized as the official American Heart Month in which advocacy efforts are made nationwide to bring awareness to cardiovascular health. That is why, today we are discussing the importance of observing American Heart Month as well as providing some helpful resources for everyone to read and share!

The Heartfelt History 

Established in 1963 with Proclamation 3566 by President Lyndon B Johnson, the national observance of American Heart Month began with the mission to help Americans everywhere increase the longevity of their health in order to prevent heart disease. During the 1960’s, heart disease was responsible for over 50% of deaths in the United States. While these deaths were taking a toll on public health, they also began affecting the economy and negatively influencing healthcare. Even now, heart disease continues to be the number one cause of death in America as well as one of the biggest healthcare expenses, seeing as recent predictions from the American Heart Association stated that costs related to heart disease will likely increase from $555 billion to $1.1 trillion by 2035. For these reasons it is clear that the time to act is now. Let’s start by taking a look at why the state of heart health is so bad in our country and what we can do as individuals or within our communities to help make a change.

More About Heart Disease

The term heart disease refers to various different cardiovascular conditions, the main one being coronary artery disease or CAD, which disrupts the flow of blood to the heart and often leads to heart attack or stroke. The main contributors to CAD are smoking, obesity, type 2 diabetes, excessive drinking and of course, high blood pressure. However, what many doctors are realizing now, is the correlation between mental health and its effects on the heart. It is a known fact that stress can lead to questionable lifestyle choices and when depression, anxiety or any other mental illness is left unchecked, people become more at risk of developing unhealthy habits which can lead to cardiovascular, amongst other health concerns.

In fact, cardiology professor, Michael Miller attests to the significance of mental health in his published work, “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.” In this article from Healthline, he also states that less movement and increased stress are likely what is causing more cases of heart disease. Additionally, he mentions how critical it is for people to take time for themselves and move around throughout the day, which particularly pertains to all the current remote workers who are stuck at home during the pandemic. Miller suggests meditation, reading and walking as great “escapes” that help alleviate stress and promote full body circulation.

Below are some quick facts on the correlation between heart health and mental health:

  • Stress can increase hormones like adrenaline and cortisol
  • Adrenaline and cortisol can impact your blood pressure and heart rate
  • Fatigue from periods of stress can prevent exercise/movement/circulation
  • Inactivity contributes to low blood function to the heart
  • Habits such as smoking, drinking, overeating may occur due to stress/mental health

For even more information head over to the American Heart Association as well as check out these facts from the CDC. 

Beyond the science of hearth health, another factor we know that greatly helps with preventable diseases is awareness. There are so many ways to get involved with American Heart Month but what is most important, starts with yourself. Set the example for your loved ones by taking the initiative of caring for your heart and encourage others to as well. This means having annual check-ups so you can better prevent health issues in the future, getting regular exercise, sleeping at least 8 hours a day, eating well or better yet – all of the above. Beyond self care you can collaborate with others virtually using this 2021 Heart Month Planner made by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. You can post your involvement on social media with #Ourhearts or share this blog and its resources with others!