Thrive: Protecting your heart during the month of love

Senior woman excercises with dumbbells on beach

Becky Ginos

Staff Writer

Small changes can make a huge difference – sometimes it’s a matter of life and death. February is American Heart Month and it’s a good time to remember that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.

   “There’s a reason it was designated as American Heart Month by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson back in 1963,” said Jennifer Merback, Communications Marketing director for the Utah and Las Vegas American Heart Association (AHA). “Back then more than half the deaths in the U.S. were caused by cardiovascular disease. Now it’s the leading cause of death globally with more than 17.3 million deaths each year.”

Although it’s No. 1 in the U.S. it knows no borders, she said. “It is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.”

Merback said the risk of heart disease is a combination of lifestyle and family history. “Diet, lack of physical activity, and although we don’t face it as much in Utah, smoking is still an issue and e-cigarettes are a concern as well,” she said. “Stress and our fast paced lifestyle contribute. We’re always on the go constantly. It all combines. Here at AHA we’re trying to focus on mindfulness and taking care of our mental health as well as overall health.”

Try simple things such as laughter during the day, she said. “Make silly faces with your family or watch videos of puppies and babies. Go for a walk with your coworkers. It can all make a difference.”

Rest is important too. “We all know sleep matters,” said Merback. “You should be getting seven to nine hours a night.”

The AHA lists these risk factors for Heart Disease, Stroke and Cardiovascular Disease:

• Smoking

• Physical Inactivity

• Nutrition

• Overweight/Obesity

• Cholesterol

• Diabetes Mellitus

The AHA truly espouses that small changes have a huge impact. “Thirty minutes of exercise five days a week is ideal,” said Merback. “But not everyone can do that. If you walk for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during the day and another 10 minutes when you get home it helps. Park your car farther away when you go to the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Twenty minutes of vacuuming is like walking a mile and 30 minutes of grocery shopping every other week for a year is like a marathon.”

By having this mindset, Merback said individuals can overcome their obstacles. “We’re all busy with our families,” she said. “God bless those who are juggling work, children and being a good spouse. It adds up. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself so that you can be there for your family.”

In conjunction with heart month, the AHA has some upcoming events. Feb. 2 is the 15th Annual National Wear Red Day. “We ask people across Utah to wear red to raise awareness of the No. 1 killer of women and men,” said Merback.

Feb. 8 the AHA will host a luncheon for Latina women. “One third of Latina women suffer from heart disease and stroke so we want to get the word out,” she said. “Only 15 percent of Latina women believe that heart health is a concern so we want to provide ways to create awareness in that community.”

“Heart on the Hill” is Feb. 9 at the Capitol. Legislators and employees can have their blood pressure checked and the AHA will advocate for heart healthier policies with the legislature.

For more information about fighting heart disease and stroke visit or


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