Living Columns & Blogs

Marking American Heart Month

The American Heart Association wants to help create longer, healthier lives so people can enjoy all of life’s precious moments. American Heart Month, a federally designated event recognized each February, is a great way to remind Americans to focus on their hearts and encourage them to get their families, friends and communities involved. Together, these groups can build a culture of health where making the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of Americans, accounting for nearly 801,000 (roughly one out of every three) deaths annually. Stroke is the nation’s fifth leading killer, claiming one of every 20 lives.

Fortunately, 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. For guidance, the AHA developed “Life’s Simple 7,” key measures and behaviors that can help people stay healthy and lower their risk for heart disease, stroke and other major problems. Life’s Simple 7 includes not smoking, staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Locally, the AHA provided funding for seven separate heart and stroke related research projects at Penn State University over the past year, totaling $969,169. Elsewhere in Centre County, the organization educated more than 4,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grades through healthy lifestyle programs and trained 3,424 individuals to perform lifesaving CPR.

The AHA is currently advocating to include CPR instruction as part of the high school curriculum. Pennsylvania is one of just 15 states that doesn’t require such training. If passed, such legislation could train more than 1,000 students annually in Centre County.

The annual Centre Heart Walk, held on PSU’s campus in October, raised nearly $50,000 to support those efforts. This year’s walk is slated for Saturday, Sept. 23 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. It will once again feature a 5K and one mile run/walk.

While American Heart Month is a federally designated month in the United States, it’s important to realize that cardiovascular disease knows no borders. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, remains the leading global cause of death with more than 17.3 million deaths each year. That number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

According to the AHA’s 2017 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update released in late January, the number of adults living with heart failure increased from about 5.7 million (2009-2012) to about 6.5 million (2011-2014).

Based on the latest statistics, the number of people diagnosed with heart failure, which means the heart is too weak to pump blood throughout the body, is projected to rise by 46 percent by 2030, resulting in more than 8 million people adults with heart failure. According to experts, there are several reasons for the rise in heart failure. Some can be attributed to medical advances, because more people are surviving heart attacks, which means they face higher heart failure risk afterward, according to Paul Muntner, a member of the statistical update’s writing panel and a professor and vice chair in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But the aging of America and other health problems are also major contributors.

The statistical update has been published as a frequently cited reference every year since 1958. It’s produced using the most-recent data available compiled by the AHA, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government sources.

The annual update also included some encouraging news. The death rate from cardiovascular diseases dropped more than 25 percent from 2004 to 2014, and physical activity increased more than 7 percent from 1998 to 2015.

With these figures in mind, the AHA remains dedicated to its mission of building longer, healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke; throughout American Heart Month and beyond.

For questions on local Heart Association efforts, contact Division Director Brooke Welsh at 717-730-1713.

Sean Dreher is the communications director of the American Heart Association.