We observe American Heart Month in February to raise awareness of heart disease and its prevention. This year’s theme, The Heart Truth, focuses on encouraging Americans to move more, because physical activity can help. With just 150 minutes of exercise a week – that’s a half hour in each of five days – we can reduce our risk. The program emphasizes that it’s never too late to improve our chances against heart disease, and that even small changes in behavior can add up to positive results. The greatest contributing factors for heart disease are behavioral, and so the most important solutions are in our hands.

Although even Egyptian mummies have shown signs of atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque and narrowing of arteries that is associated coronary heart disease (CHD), the saga of heart disease in North America might begin in the mid-20th century, with “the greatest generation.” Before the late-1940s, the incidence of heart attack chugged along as a background feature in a physically active society. Infectious diseases and other hazards were greater causes of concern. The overabundance of food and rapid, all-day access to it that we assume today had yet to emerge. Certainly, what we now consider “comfort foods” were among the mainstays of an American diet, yet we mainly ate at mealtime, and a much greater portion of the population did work that was physically demanding.

In 1948, pivotal research in the Framingham Study showed that the men who had just survived World War II were dying at home in droves from sudden heart attacks. By 1960, heart attack caused a third of the deaths in the U.S. The attention resulting from this health crisis gave rise to action on a number of fronts, including diet, exercise, lower rates of smoking, blood pressure control, and preventative surgical techniques like angioplasty. When a 20% reduction in death from CHD emerged between 1968 and 1978, there were so many causes of this reduction in deaths that studies have had difficulty isolating or even prioritizing the most important ones.

The Greatest Remedy of All

So, attention has perhaps proven to be the greatest remedy of all, and this is the purpose of observing American Heart Month in February. Still, the actions that result from this attention are important to learn.

Even a small, consistent change in what we eat and how we move can make a difference. The Department of Health and Human Services makes suggestions that are as simple as ABCs. Aspirin: ask your family physician if a low-dose aspirin regimen is right for you. It can reduce the risk of heart attack for many people. Blood pressure control: know your numbers and get grooved in a diet and exercise rhythm that works for you. Cholesterol: monitor your levels and ask your doctor how to get them where they ought to be and keep them there.

And the little s that makes ABCs plural is actually a very big one. Smoking is the number-one cause of preventable disease. If you haven’t quit, it’s time. If you have tried, keep trying.

Get your family doctor on your side, because research is conclusive that people who get help and support are more successful at kicking cigarettes than folks who try to go it alone, so why not schedule an appointment with us at Global Family Medicine? Call us at 843-815-6468.