Your heart pumps approximately 2,000 gallons of blood every day and beats an average of 2.5 billion times over your lifetime, which means keeping your heart in tip-top shape plays a big part in your overall health. February marks American Heart Month, but keeping your heart healthy should be a wellness priority year-round.

Heart disease is responsible for one in every four deaths in the United States, and it is the leading killer of both men and women in the U.S. Your family provider plays an important role in identifying and managing your risk. Learn how heart disease affects women differently and the steps you can take today to boost your heart health.

Heart disease & women

Heart disease can be particularly deadly for women, who often experience atypical symptoms and may put off seeking treatment because their warning signs are vaguer. Talk about heart health with your family. Ask if there is a history of any heart disease, defects, or trouble in your family and discuss that family heart history with your family medicine provider. This helps develop your personal risk for developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack.

If you are “feeling off” and aren’t sure why, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and make an appointment with your family medicine provider to discuss your concerns. They can pinpoint the problem and take steps to treat it quickly.

Warning signs can be subtle

When we think of heart attacks, we tend to think of older adults suddenly suffering crushing chest pain or numbness shooting down their left arm. The signs can be much more subtle and are affecting more people at a younger age. Men are more likely to suffer chest pains and numbness; women are more likely to suffer referred pain in their shoulder, jaw or back.

Women should be alert to more subtle changes in their body, as heart-related symptoms do not often present in the same way as they do in men. Be alert for increased fatigue, more or “different” indigestion/heartburn, and new shoulder, jaw or back pain—all of which can be signs of a serious heart problem.

Pay attention to changes in your body and seek professional advice quickly if something doesn’t feel right, even if you think it may turn out to be nothing. It’s always better to know.

What can you do right now to improve your heart health?

Our busy lives often get in the way of focusing on our heart health, and it’s human nature to put off something that seems too daunting. Don’t wait! Improving your heart health doesn’t have to be hard.

Here are some simple steps you can take today to improve your heart health:

- Plan ahead: Make a healthy meal plan before hitting the grocery to help you steer clear of junk food and focus on healthy proteins and produce.

- Tweak your diet: Lower fat, cholesterol and sodium; eat more fiber, fruits and veggies!

- Watch your numbers: Get an annual checkup every year and opt for preventive screenings like blood pressure checks and blood tests to monitor your numbers. Keep an eye on your cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides, as they tell you a lot about your heart health.

- Lower stress: Stress is a dangerous strain on the heart. Whether it’s meditation, reading, singing or a soak in the tub, make time to unwind from the everyday hustle-and-bustle with something that relaxes you.

- Stay hydrated: Proper hydration makes your blood much easier to circulate. It also helps remove waste and has the added benefit of cushioning your joints, which makes heart-healthy exercise easier.

Get moving: Talk to your family doctor about building a heart healthy exercise routine that safely raises your heart rate. If you can’t fit a 30+ minute block of exercise into your schedule, try smaller snippets of 10-15 minutes throughout the day. To easily add more movement to your day, take the stairs, park a little further away from the store or take your pets for a walk.

Are you concerned about your heart health? The Laurel Health Centers have you covered, offering award-winning primary care services for the whole family throughout Tioga County, including sites in Blossburg, Mansfield, Lawrenceville, Westfield, Elkland and Wellsboro. All locations offer both onsite and telemedicine visits via phone and video chat.

For more information, or to make an appointment, call 1-833-LAURELHC or visit laurelhc.org. To make an appointment with Angela Dixon, CRNP, call the Mansfield Laurel Health Center at 570-662-2002.

Angela Dixon, CRNP is a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner with the Laurel Health Centers.