Author: Dr. Leana Ramirez, Chief Clinical Officer at The Center
February isn't just about Valentine's Day and chocolate hearts; it's also American Heart Month, a time to spotlight the importance of cardiovascular health. Our hearts work tirelessly, beating around 100,000 times a day to keep us alive. Yet, heart disease remains the leading cause of death globally, underscoring the urgency of prioritizing heart health.
Heart disease is a widespread health concern, affecting millions of lives each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease accounts for approximately 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States. This staggering statistic highlights the urgent need for proactive measures to prevent and manage heart conditions.
Moreover, UPMC shares that studies suggest members of the LGBTQIA+ community have a greater risk of heart disease than other individuals.
Transgender women are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease than cisgender women. Trans women are also almost twice as likely to have strokes and 3 times as likely to have heart attacks than cis women.
Trans men have more than double the risk of a heart attack than cis men. Compared to cisgender women, transgender men are nearly 5 times more likely to have a heart attack.
Several risk factors contribute to the development of heart disease. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle significantly increase the likelihood of experiencing cardiovascular problems. Recognizing these risk factors empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle choices.
Studies also suggest that LGBTQIA+ individuals are disproportionately exposed to psychological and social stressors throughout their lives, which increase their risk of cardiovascular disease. These stressors include:
- Higher risk of medical conditions like HIV.
- Financial stress.
- Increased risk of relationship and hate crime violence.
- Institutional, societal, and economic discrimination.
- Rejection by family and friends.
- Social stigma.
Increased stress from these and other factors is associated with unhealthy behaviors such increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs.
Tips for Maintaining Heart Health
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet: Embrace a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Limit consumption of processed foods, sugary beverages, and foods high in saturated and trans fats.
Stay Active: Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. Choose activities you enjoy, such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing, to make physical activity a sustainable part of your lifestyle.
Manage Stress: Chronic stress can negatively impact heart health. Unfortunately, members of the LBGTQIA+ community face widespread discrimination in the U.S., which greatly increases stress. Practice stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or spending time in nature to promote relaxation and emotional well-being.
Quit Smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels, increases blood pressure, and raises the risk of heart disease. Seek support and resources to quit smoking and improve your cardiovascular health.
Monitor Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels: Regularly check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels as recommended by your healthcare provider. Early detection and management of hypertension and high cholesterol are critical for preventing heart disease.
Maintain Healthy Weight: Strive to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise. Excess weight puts strain on the heart and increases the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Get Enough Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support heart health and overall well-being. Prioritize sleep hygiene practices and create a relaxing bedtime routine to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep.
As we observe American Heart Month, let's commit to nurturing our heart health year-round. By understanding the statistics, recognizing risk factors, and implementing practical tips for maintaining heart health, we can reduce our risk of heart disease and enhance our overall well-being. Remember, small lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in protecting our hearts and preserving our health for years to come. Let's honor our hearts, the resilient engines that keep us going day after day.
For more detailed information on heart health, risk factors, and prevention strategies, consider consulting reputable sources such as the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These organizations offer a wealth of resources, including articles, guidelines, and educational materials designed to empower individuals to take charge of their cardiovascular health.
By staying informed and proactive about heart health, you can take meaningful steps to protect your heart and enhance your overall well-being. Remember, knowledge is key to making informed decisions and promoting a heart-healthy and authentic lifestyle.