You Gotta Have Heart

February, the shortest month of the year, is crammed with celebrations. Starting with frenzied festivities around a shadow seeking woodchuck, and ending--every four years--in a role-reversal exercise aptly named Leap Year, this month is packed with action.

A Time for Black History

February is Black History Month. African-Americans bathe in their ancestors' accomplishments and recognize outstanding feats of peers in a world where racism still raises significant boundaries. It is the best of times, providing a rare opportunity for persons of color to view faces we have yearned to see and listen to voices we have strained to hear. They come often during this fleeting season, priming our appetites for more history, knowledge, validation. They wear names like Barack Hussein Obama, civil rights activist Julian Bond, humanitarians Camille and Bill Cosby, and educator Cornell West. Younger stalwarts have grabbed our attention, people like musical artists Wynton Marsalis, John Legend, and Alicia Keyes, who have taken their fifteen minutes of fame way beyond personal gains to benefit the world.

A Time for Hearts

This month we celebrate Valentine's Day, our children and grandchildren exchanging decorated paper hearts. As we remember the smell of paste from distant classrooms, tender thoughts warm our hearts.

But what about that vital organ nestled inside our chests? Yes, February is also American Heart Month, and there continues an urgent need to spread the word about heart health. According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year--that's 1 in every 4 deaths.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were men.
  • Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing more than 385,000 people annually.
  • Every year about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attach and 190,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.
  • Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity.

Historically, women were led to believe that men were more prone to heart disease than women. This myth has been dispelled.  While women may manifest different symptoms during a heart attack, the disease is almost as prevalent. For example, a female colleague described "a sense of impending doom," while undergoing her heart attack. There was no chest pain, no sweating, none of the cardinal symptoms she'd learned in her nursing classes.

The American Heart Association continues to deliver the message that the best solution to heart disease is prevention. Reduce heart disease and stroke by not smoking, controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and drinking alcohol only in moderation--for women this means one drink per day.