As Valentine’s Day fast approaches our thoughts turn to hearts, and what better time to remind everyone that February is Heart Month. Heart disease was the top leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2010 and was one of two chronic diseases – cancer is the other – that accounted for nearly 48% of all deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Heart disease is also the leading cause of death worldwide. Most people think that heart disease is for older adults, but risk factors for this disease start in childhood. Knowing the risk factors – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and physical inactivity – and controlling them when you are young will lower the risk of developing heart disease later in life.
Some risk factors for heart disease are linked to family history; you can’t change genetics, but you can change your environment. One risk factor of heart disease you can control and take out of your environment is smoking. The chemicals in cigarettes speeds up your heart rate and decreases the amount of oxygen your heart gets. Carbon monoxide, nicotine and other substances in tobacco smoke damages your blood vessels increasing the development of atherosclerosis. “Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries” causing them to narrow or blocking them entirely. If this happens in the heart, it is called coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease. Narrowed arteries make it difficult for oxygen-rich blood to flow to the heart and a blocked artery can cause a heart attack. Even non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke by living with a smoker or working in a smoke-filled environment can develop heart disease.
Smokers are “two to four times more likely to get heart disease,” but quitting can reduce your risk. In fact, after 1 year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is cut in half. Even if you have smoked for years, quitting will benefit your health. So do your heart a favor and show it some love by kicking the smoking habit.