Candy Hearts

Let’s Have a Candid Heart Conversation

You may have a bowl of conversation hearts — those colorful sugar candies that feature short messages printed on them such as “Be Mine” and “Kiss Me” — remaining in your home from Valentine’s Day. Most people read the messages before they pop them in their mouths. With February designated as American Heart Month, it would be great if these candies also included heart healthy messages such as “Eat Right” or “Exercise.”

According to the American Heart Association:

  • Heart disease remains the number one cause of death.
  • Cardiovascular diseases claim more lives each year in the United States than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined.
  • Approximately every 39 seconds, someone has a heart attack in the United States.
  • Strokes account for 1 out of every 19 deaths.
  • Someone dies from a stroke every 3 minutes 33 seconds.

“Every year for the 28 days in February, people are exposed to messages from the media regarding ways to keep their hearts healthy,” explained Brent A. Barnes, DO, a Cardiologist at Penn Highlands Healthcare and DuBois Regional Cardiology Associates. “Heart health should be an everyday practice for all adults because it could help them live a longer life.”

The American Heart Association has identified “Life’s Simple 7,” the seven risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes to help achieve ideal cardiovascular health; they include:

  • Smoking.
  • Physical Inactivity.
  • Nutrition.
  • Overweight/obesity.
  • Cholesterol.
  • Diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure.

“Life’s Simple 7 is a great list to follow, but while physical inactivity can hinder health, some physical activity may not be appropriate for everyone,” said Dr. Barnes. “For example, every winter, dozens of people die shoveling snow. Older, middle-aged people are at the highest risk; but, when cold temperatures, which can raise blood pressure and narrow arteries, are combined with the intense exertion, it can be a deadly combination for any age group.”

Dr. Barnes advises people that the first step to a healthier heart begins with a conversation — a frank discussion with your physician before a thorough physical is performed. A primary care physician or internist will review the person’s medical history and lifestyle habits and order blood or other tests. If needed, diet modifications, approved exercise and medication to control high blood pressure or to help lower cholesterol will be prescribed. In addition, Penn Highlands Healthcare encourages you to take a free heart risk assessment to gauge your heart health while identifying any risks. Take the assessment at

“Your heart is the most important muscle in your body; and, I always remind my patients that they are never too young or too old to take good care of their heart,” Dr. Barnes added.

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers specialized heart care — everything from preventive heart health medicine and advanced diagnostic testing to complex heart surgery and cardiac rehabilitation. To learn more, visit