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  • Learn How to Protect Your Heart for American Heart Month

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    By Lenora Johnson, Dr.P.H., M.P.H.
    Director of the Office of Science Policy, Engagement, Education and Communications
    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

    Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Sadly, one in four people die of it each year. Yet, despite progress in reducing these rates overall, the disease continues to impact communities of color in a disproportionate and troubling way.

    African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and Alaska Natives all experience higher rates of both heart disease and its associated conditions—diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Disturbingly, within these already hard-hit populations, women often bear an even greater burden. African American women, for example, have higher rates of heart disease and are more likely to die of it than White women.

    But the disparities don’t stop there. Certain geographic regions, especially the South, see higher rates of deaths from the disease. The states at the top of the list in 2016 were Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.

    The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)—part of the National Institutes of Health—funds a number of large-scale studies to help reduce these kinds of health disparities and inequities. The Jackson Heart Study, which NHLBI co-sponsors with the National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities, is the largest investigation of causes of cardiovascular disease among African Americans. The Strong Heart Study, the largest epidemiologic study of American Indians, examines cardiovascular disease and its risk factors in that population. The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos is the most comprehensive study of Hispanic/Latino health and disease in the United States.

    One bright spot is that prevention is possible, at any age. That’s why this February, during American Heart Month, NHLBI is educating Americans about heart disease and how to protect against it. The Institute is also launching #OurHearts to encourage Americans to improve their heart health by making lifestyle changes—together. Research shows that support from others can make it a lot easier to get regular physical activity, eat healthy, lose weight, and quit smoking.

    Want to make your own heart healthier and help others, too? Here are four ways to participate in American Heart Month:

    1. Wear Red on the First Friday of February. Grab your friends, family, and coworkers for National Wear Red Day® by donning red on the first Friday of February each year. It’s a visual way to bring greater attention to heart disease awareness.
    1. Get Moving. Inactivity is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. At work, challenge colleagues to take the stairs, schedule walking meetings, and use a standing desk. At home, break your daily activity into manageable chunks: go for a quick walk around the block with family, start a spontaneous dance party in your kitchen, or do any kind of physical activity for just 15 minutes. Small amounts add up.
    1. Mind Your Diet. Unhealthy food choices can raise your risk of heart disease because they contribute to risk factors. Try to limit foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars, and avoid trans fats. Adopt a healthy eating plan, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan, or go to NHLBI’s Facebook page on February 26 for a live heart-healthy cooking demo.
    1. Share Your Progress: During February, share your #OurHearts stories and photos on social media to show what you and your friends, family, or coworkers are doing to be heart-healthy. Let’s encourage and motivate each other this month and beyond. Find out what’s happening near you at

    #OurHearts are healthier together.