By Vogel Bros. Safety Department

In February we are surrounded by reminders about Valentine’s Day. Stores are filled with heart-shaped candies, balloons and decorations, and even some restaurants sell heart-shaped pizzas. The reminders to think about hearts and love are everywhere.

It’s not a coincidence then that February is American Heart Month. Did you know that high blood pressure remains a leading public health threat? The condition often has no warning signs or symptoms, so many people may not know they have it. High blood pressure may be linked to the following health conditions:

  • Dementia: The heart and brain are the two hardest working organs in your body. They are so closely linked that the conditions that put one at risk of poor health can affect the other.
  • Heart attack: About seven of every ten people having their first heart attack have high blood pressure.
  • Kidney disease: Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause arteries around the kidneys to narrow, weaken or harden. This is why high blood pressure, or hypertension, is the second leading cause of kidney failure.
  • Stroke: Stroke is a leading cause of death and severe, long-term disability. Weakened arteries in the brain, resulting from high blood pressure, put a person at a much higher risk for stroke, which is why managing high blood pressure is critical to reduce the chances of having a stroke.

While the research can be disheartening, fortunately your heart’s health is in your hands. You can take action now to reduce the risk for these conditions. Make positive changes in your life, such as:

  • Find time to be active. Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
  • Make healthy eating a habit. Small changes in your eating habits can make a big difference. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Million Hearts campaign has a variety of resources to help you develop a heart-healthy eating lifestyle.
  • Quit tobacco – for good. Smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco products affects nearly every organ in your body, including your heart. Any amount of smoking, even light or occasional smoking, damages the heart and blood vessels.
  • Know your numbers. The best way to know if your blood pressure is in a healthy or unhealthy range is to get it checked by your doctor.

If you’re interested in learning more, organizations such as the American Heart Association, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – National Institutes of Health offer resources to reduce your risk of high blood pressure. And as you’re stocking up on heart-shaped gifts this February, remember to show your heart some love and choose to make 2018 a healthy year!