American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month. It’s a time to take inventory of your heart health!

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, or NHLBI.

Research shows you can lower your risk, particularly if you team up with family, friends or co-workers. This kind of social support may be the key to your success.

To mark American Heart Month, NHLBI, one of the National Institutes of Health, and Penn Highlands Healthcare are inviting people to team up with someone and join #OurHearts, a national heart health initiative that encourages people to improve heart health together.

“Just working with one person and making lifestyle changes could improve your heart health,” Dr. Raj Kaushik, chief cardiovascular/thoracic surgeon with The Heart Center of Penn Highlands Healthcare.

“Studies show that having positive, close relationships and feeling connected to others benefits overall health, blood pressure, weight and more,” said NHLBI’s Dr. David Goff, director of cardiovascular sciences.

What can people do together?

Talk about and implement good diet changes. “Watch what you eat. If it grows on trees, it is good for you. Eat more vegetables and fruits,” Kaushik said. “Cut back on saturated fats. One-percent milk is better; choose it over whole milk.” The NHLBI’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, eating plan, is scientifically proven to lower high blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. It is available at

“If you think you are overweight, you probably are,” Kaushik said. Check your body mass index, or BMI. Then, do something about it. Cut back on how much you eat. Keep track in a notebook to see what and how much you are eating. Working with a partner to try healthier choices or find recipes can make it easier.

Get up and move! “Couches are for sitting, not for growing roots. Go for a walk. Do something!” Kaushik said. This is a great time of year to walk indoors at a mall or gym, and walking with someone else is a perfect way to spend time together. You can also join a fitness class.

Get check-ups. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but check-in with him or her regularly,” Kaushik said. If you are partnering with someone, remind each other to keep medical appointments. And if you have any concerns about your heart health, see your primary care physician. If you don’t have one, go to

Quit smoking. This has so many benefits to your health. Penn Highlands Healthcare offers a free support group for those who wish to quit or continue to be tobacco-free. It meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. in the Penn Highlands Community Pharmacy, 621 S. Main St., DuBois. For more information, call The Lung Center at 814-375-3770.

Drink less alcohol. Drinking less or no alcohol will help lower blood pressure.

Eliminate stress. “Letting people and things stress you out only affects you!” Finding ways to control your stress – listening to music, exercising or meditating – is worth the time.

Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Turn off your electronic devices before bed time.

Learn the signs of a heart attack. Getting help quickly saves heart muscle and lives. Call 9-1-1 if you or someone has these common symptoms:
• Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
• Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
• Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
• Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Symptoms can also vary between men and women. As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

But no matter what gender you are, learn all the signs. If you think even maybe that you are having a heart attack, don’t delay getting help, Kaushik said. Most heart attacks start slowly with milder symptoms. Pay attention to them.