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Be Heart Smart This February & Make Time for Your Heart Health!

By Kristy Warren

Come Valentine's Day, we're thinking with our hearts, but it's also a great time to think about our hearts. Did you know heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States? According to the CDC's latest statistics, one person dies every 34 seconds from cardiovascular disease in the United States, and heart disease is responsible for about one in every five U.S. deaths.


The good news? You and your family medicine provider can work together to identify your risk and create a personalized wellness plan to improve and protect your heart health.  


Angela Dixon, CRNP, Laurel Health Centers

Angela Dixon, a certified registered nurse practitioner (CRNP) with the Laurel Health Centers, is passionate about improving heart health.


Below, she walks us through the important role your family history and healthcare provider play in knowing and understanding your personal risk for heart disease, including the subtle signs something could be wrong, how women and men experience heart-related symptoms in different ways, and the steps you can take today to boost your heart health. 


Read on to learn how you can support a stronger, healthier heart. 


February marks American Heart Month, which highlights the threat of heart disease, warning signs to watch for, and how to take better care of your heart. The statistics on heart disease can be startling and even overwhelming, but taking care of your heart doesn't have to be daunting. There are simple, actionable steps you can take right now to boost your heart health. 


It's important to know your family history of heart problems and discuss it with your family doctor in detail. This will help your provider determine your personal risk factors and how best to mitigate them to keep your heart healthy.

Common risk factors for heart disease include:

• Smoking

• High blood pressure

• High cholesterol

• Being overweight or obese

• Physical inactivity (not getting enough exercise)

• Diabetes

• Family history of early coronary heart disease

• Age (55 and older)

Some risk factors we can't do anything about such as our age or family history, but there are a lot of risk factors we can control to prevent heart disease and make our heart healthier!




Your heart pumps approximately 2,000 gallons of blood every day and beats an average of 2.5 billion times over your lifetime, which means getting your heart in tip-top shape plays a big part in your overall health


While February is Heart Health Month, keeping your heart healthy should be a wellness priority year-round, and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Our busy lives often get in the way of focusing on our health, and it is human nature to put off things that seem daunting. To get started, focus on improving your heart health with a few small, tangible steps.


Here are some steps you can take today to improve your heart health:

Plan ahead: Make a meal plan before hitting the grocery to help you stay focused on healthy proteins and produce instead of junk food that has a high calorie count while providing little nutrition. 

Adjust your diet: Eat more fiber, fruits, and veggies and lower your intake of unhealthy fats, cholesterol, and sodium (salt). Be sure to check nutrition labels; pre-packaged foods and snacks often have a lot of sodium, which can negatively impact heart health.

Senior Man in Checked Shirt with Glasses Reading Ingredient Label While Shopping at Grocery Store

Get tested and watch your numbers: Schedule an annual checkup every year and opt for preventive screenings like blood pressure checks and blood tests to monitor your numbers. Keep an eye on your cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides, as they tell you a lot about your heart health.


Lower stress: Stress, especially persistent, chronic stress, can put a dangerous strain on your heart, so make time to process your stress so you can let go of it. Sometimes stress is inevitable (e.g., a big work project or a newborn in the house), so make time to unwind from chronic stressors. Find what works for you—whether it’s reading, meditation, singing, dancing, journaling, exercising, talking with a friend, laughing through your favorite sitcom, or a soak in the tub.


Stay hydrated: Proper hydration makes your blood much easier to circulate. It also helps remove waste and has the added benefit of cushioning your joints, which makes heart-healthy, stress-reducing exercise easier.


Get moving: Talk to your family doctor about building a heart healthy exercise routine that safely raises your heart rate. Aim for 30 minutes of activity at least 5 days each week. If you can’t fit a 30+ minute block of exercise into your schedule, try smaller snippets of 10 - 15 minutes throughout the day. Taking the stairs, household chores, walking, dancing, and playing with your children or pets are all great ways to fit extra movement into your day.


Quit tobacco: While most of us know tobacco is bad for our lungs and puts us at risk for many types of cancer, not everyone realizes that tobacco also puts you at a much higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. If you've had trouble quitting, talk to your doctor about developing a plan that will help you successfully tackle cravings and step down gradually to become tobacco-free. No matter how long you've used tobacco, quitting improves your health!




In addition to preventive measures, it's important to know the warning signs that something could be wrong so you can intervene early. When we think of heart trouble, we often first think of heart attacks. We tend to picture heart attacks as always happening the same way: suffering abrupt, crushing chest pain or numbness shooting down the left arm. In reality, the signs can sometimes be much more subtle. As many as 1 in 5 heart attacks are “silent,” meaning the person in question doesn’t even realize they had a heart attack.


While men are more likely to suffer chest pains and numbness, women are more likely to suffer referred pain in their shoulder, jaw, or back. Pay attention to changes in your body and seek professional advice quickly if something doesn’t feel right, even if you think it may turn out to be nothing. It’s always better to know, and catching problems early makes treating them easier.  




Heart disease can prove particularly deadly for women because heart-related symptoms often do not present in women the same way they do in men. This can result in women delaying diagnosis and treatment because their warning signs feel too vague and hard to pin down. Pay attention to subtle changes in your body

Tired Woman with Hands On Temples Suffering from Fatigue and Stress Leaning on a Table

Women often experience atypical symptoms that don’t immediately signal “my heart is in trouble” with symptoms like:

  • Increased fatigue

  • Indigestion / heartburn that is new, more frequent, or feels different

  • New shoulder, jaw, or back pain

All of these atypical symptoms can be signs of a serious heart problem. If you are “feeling off” and aren’t sure why, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and make an appointment with your family medicine provider to discuss your concerns. They can pinpoint the problem and take steps to treat it quickly.




Are you concerned about your heart health? The Laurel Health Centers have you covered, offering award-winning primary care and specialty care for the whole family throughout Tioga and Bradford Counties, including sites in Blossburg, Elkland, Lawrenceville, Mansfield, Troy, Wellsboro, and Westfield, PA. All locations offer both onsite and telemedicine visits via phone and video chat.


For more information or to make an appointment with Laurel Health, call 1-833-LAURELHC (1-833-528-7354) and select the location of your choice; click here for a full list of Laurel Health offices and contact numbers. To make an appointment with our featured expert, Angela Dixon, CRNP, call the Mansfield Laurel Health Center at 570-662-2002


For more heart health tips, please stay tuned to Laurel Health's health and wellness news page and Laurel Health's official Facebook page all month long!