Accept the Million Hearts Challenge this American Heart Health Month
By Kevin Powell, Health Policy Intern, Office of the Chief Medical Officer
With American Heart Health Month coming to a close, we ask that you continue to protect yourself and your loved ones from heart disease and stroke. Are you aware that heart disease and stroke are the first and fourth leading causes of death in the United States? It’s true. Heart disease, alone, is responsible for one of every four deaths in the country.
Americans suffer more than two million heart attacks and strokes each year, and every day, 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease.
Among those affected, men have the highest risk of death across all races and ethnic groups. Fortunately, there are people out there that have made it their mission to actively assist in improving the heart health of our families, friends and colleagues. This month, we are highlighting Million Hearts, an initiative dedicated to preventing the nation's leading killers and empowering everyone to make heart-healthy choices.
Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. by 2017. Launched by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in September 2011, it aligns existing efforts, as well as creates new programs, to improve health across communities and help Americans live longer, more productive lives. The Administration for Children and Families, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), co-leaders of Million Hearts within HHS, are working alongside other federal agencies and private-sector organizations to make a long-lasting impact against cardiovascular disease.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides a strong foundation for Million Hearts by increasing coverage and facilitating improved care. It waives patient cost sharing for preventive services, including blood-pressure and cholesterol screening and smoking-cessation counseling and treatment, for enrollees in new private insurance plans.
Although Million Hearts along with several federal agencies are actively fighting to improve the heart health of families across the nation, I must remind you that prevention starts with everyone. How so, you ask? Well, Million Hearts is challenging you to assist in preventing heart disease by making healthy choices and managing any medical conditions you may have. Following these steps will put you well on your way to leading a longer, healthier life and enjoying the benefits of heart health for years to come.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate a number called the body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC's Assessing Your Weight Web page.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Walk, go for a hike or a bike ride, or head to the local pool for a swim. You can make exercising fun by including family and friends!
- Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so be sure to check it on a regular basis. You can check your blood pressure at home, at a local pharmacy, or at a doctor's office. Your health care provider should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 5 years.
- Don't smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, quit as soon as possible. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.
- Limit alcohol use. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can increase your blood pressure. Men should have no more than two drinks per day (and one per day for women).
Anyone—male and female, young and old, of any race/ethnicity—can develop heart disease. Fortunately, we can fight back against heart disease and stroke. Drive the initiative by challenging your family and friends to take the Million Hearts pledge at http://millionhearts.hhs.gov. There are so many good reasons to lower your risk of heart disease. What better time to start than now?