WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — February is Heart Month, and heart disease still remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says about half of all Americans have one of three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, cholesterol, or being a smoker. In fact, research shows that more and more younger people under the age of 40 are experiencing heart attacks.

Younger women appear to be experiencing heart attacks disproportionately to young men. In addition, 1 in 5 patients who suffer a heart attack under the age of 50 also has diabetes, which is another factor that contributes to a greater risk of heart disease.

A study commissioned by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that despite the fact that heart attacks are becoming more and more common among younger adults, 47% of those under age 45 don’t think they are at risk for heart disease.

“Knowing your risk for heart disease could save your life,” says Cardiologist Andre Saad with Ascension Medical Group Via Christi. “While some risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history, you can take steps to lower your risk by changing factors that you can control.”

Additional risk factors for heart disease aside from age, diabetes, and gender:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Stress
  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Drug abuse

If you have any of the risk factors, there are some simple steps you can take today to get healthy.

  1. Get vaccinated: COVID-19, influenza, and pneumonia can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. You can be vaccinated against all three and help reduce your risk.
  2. Change your diet: reduce your intact of red meat and processed food, and eat lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Small changes like switching to whole-grain pasta or swapping vegetables for carbs like white pasta or rice can help. Reducing saturated fats, cutting back on potatoes, or even switching to a vegetarian or vegan meal once a week can help.
  3. Exercise: Get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. A 2022 study shows just 10 minutes more of activity per day could save over 100,000 lives a year. Taking at least 7,000 steps a day can reduce mortality rates, according to a 2021 study. In addition, a study publish last month showed getting up and walking every 30 minutes to an hour for five minutes could improve cardiovascular health.
  4. Quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption: Smoking damages the heart and blood vessels, contributing to heart disease. Drinking can raise blood pressure. Binge drinking can also cause atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that can increase the chance of blood clots or stroke.

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately or call 911:

  • Chest pressure, tightness, or fullness
  • Squeezing, pain or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for minutes and sometimes radiating to the shoulders, neck, arms, or jaw
  • Chest pain that increases in intensity or that’s not relieved by rest
  • Chest pain that occurs while sweating
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion, nausea, or vomiting
  • Unexplained weakness or fatigue
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Paleness

For more information about heart disease during Heart Month, visit the American Heart Association. For more about Ascension Via Christi, including links to finding a cardiologist, click here.