Dr. Monestersky holds a doctorate in osteopathic medicine, a master’s degree in public health and is a Fellow of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – In February, many Americans are thinking about Valentine’s Day and how to best show those who matter to us that they are special. Let’s start by caring not just about Valentine hearts, but especially about our heart health.
February is also National Heart Health Month or American Heart Month, which is endorsed by the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the second week of every February is Heart Failure Awareness Week, sponsored by the Heart Failure Society of America.
Celebrating National Heart Health Month is consistent with the core mission of the Defense Centers for Public Health–Aberdeen, formerly known as the Army Public Health Center. A healthy and fit service member is a deployable and combat-ready service member. Heart disease and heart failure are not compatible with continued active-duty service.
Heart disease is a killer
I want to remind service members and their family members that maintaining a healthy heart is important at any age. Not taking care of our heart when we are younger can lead to serious cardiovascular problems and heart disease – or even heart failure – in later years.
Sometimes heart disease may be “silent” and not diagnosed until a person experiences serious signs or symptoms, like a heart attack. Some service members and young adults may think that heart disease is a problem for older generations to worry about. But heart disease affects every age group, not just older adults.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and men. The CDC reports that almost 700,000 Americans worldwide died from heart disease in 2020. Many cases are preventable; almost 50 percent of Americans have at least one of the three leading risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
Heart failure is a specific form of heart disease. At this point the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in your body. Though it can be medically managed, the CDC reports more than six million Americans are living with heart failure and has linked heart failure to more than 300,000 deaths in one year.
While heart failure is one of the most common diagnoses in hospital patients aged 65 and above, it also affects children, young adults and the middle-aged. Like heart disease and heart attacks, heart failure is largely preventable by adopting a healthier lifestyle and following your healthcare provider’s recommendations.
You can reduce your risk
Lifestyle changes and medical management can greatly reduce the risks of developing - and dying from – heart disease. In fact, developing healthier habits at the earliest age possible can improve your odds of better heart health later in life.
You can reduce your risk of developing or dying from heart disease by preventing or improving the following:
The Department of Defense recognizes the importance of cardiovascular fitness as a key measure of heart health by mandating measurable standards in policy, doctrine, procedures and equipment.
For example, most of a Soldier’s fitness centers around the health of their heart and cardiovascular system. The Army Combat Fitness Test measures cardiovascular and cardiac fitness.
Heart health is important for you and your family
The importance of heart health also extends to the family. Knowing that the family is healthy allows our service members to deploy on missions in defense of our nation with less worry about their families back home.
We should not only focus on our own cardiovascular health but promote heart health in our families and friends as well. This is a good time to consider what we can personally do to prevent heart disease.
Look at your own habits and those of family members and see how many of these suggested actions you can take to improve heart health:
- Maintain a healthy body weight by selecting healthy foods and snacks and actively participating in regular exercise.
- Maintain a normal cholesterol level through diet, medication or both.
- Monitor and maintain a healthy blood pressure.
- Improve your sleeping habits to ensure 7–8 hours of quality sleep.
- Protect your heart from damaging substances such as tobacco, e-cigarettes, excessive alcohol and certain over-the-counter drugs and supplements.
The military family has ready access to expert healthcare providers who are available to answer individual questions and to help maintain heart health. On our military installations, we have access to free fitness centers, Army/Armed Forces Wellness Centers, fitness coaches, dietitians, smoking cessation program counselors, health educators, and a full range of other health professionals.
Additional information and tools are available from these public health organizations:
1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Heart disease tools and resources for healthcare professionals, for public health professionals and for individuals and patients
- Heart failure information: statistics, risk factors, symptoms and treatment
2. The American Heart Association has many resources including assorted health topics, tools to help avoid early death and disability from heart disease, and resources for health professionals.
3. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health lists coronary artery disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and diabetes as the causes of heart failure.
Please join DCPH-A in celebrating both the 59th annual American Heart Month and 23rd annual Heart Failure Awareness Week and in promoting heart health. Evaluate your lifestyle habits and those of all your family members to make sure you are doing all you can to stay heart healthy.
The Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen advances Joint Force health protection with agile public health enterprise solutions in support of the National Defense Strategy.
NOTE: The mention of any non-federal entity and/or its products is for informational purposes only, and not to be construed or interpreted, in any manner, as federal endorsement of that non-federal entity or its products.