Chances are you or someone you know is affected by heart disease and stroke. It doesn't just happen to older adults but younger men and women, too. February is American Heart Month, a federally designated event to remind all of us to focus on our hearts. National Go Red Day is Friday.

Related contentCardiovascular disease, including both heart disease and stroke, remains the leading cause of death globally with more than 17.9 million deaths each year. While we have made progress in reducing the death rate due to heart disease in America over the past 50 years, the number of global deaths continues to rise due to aging populations.

The best way to treat heart disease is by preventing it. Half of all Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking). A heart-healthy lifestyle can improve your heart health and lower your risk by as much as 80 percent.

The American Heart Association recommends achieving "Life Simple 7," seven ideal health behaviors and risk factors to address, even modestly, to reduce the risk of heart disease. The components of Life Simple 7 are maintaining a normal blood pressure, normal total cholesterol level, normal fasting blood sugar, normal weight, heart-healthy diet, non-smoking lifestyle, and a regimen of physical activity.

Being active lowers blood pressure, boosts levels of good cholesterol, improves blood flow, maintains normal weight, and prevents bone loss due to osteoporosis. The American Heart Association recommends moving for at least 150 minutes each week. "Move more, sit less" is the recommendation from the Health and Human Services' guidelines for physical activity.

While sitting is bad for our heart health, an unhealthy diet can be just as bad. Only one in 10 adults gets the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which is five servings daily. The average diet also includes way too much sodium or salt, which is often processed in the foods we buy and rarely added by a salt shaker at the table. Diets high in salt (greater than 2 grams per day), high in trans-fats and saturated fats, and with added sugars increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Please join me on National Go Red Day Friday, not only by wearing red but by sharing your heart health with a friend or family member, to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke. Stand up for your heart.


Dr. Catherine Benziger of Duluth is a cardiologist and a member of the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology.