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Heart smart lifestyle promoted by DHEC for American Heart Month

Young woman checking the sports watch measuring heart rate and performance after running.
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Young woman checking the sports watch measuring heart rate and performance after running.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) this month is reminding South Carolinians of the importance of maintaining a heart-smart lifestyle that builds a healthy and strong heart.

February is American Heart Month, a national campaign that spotlights cardiovascular health. According to DHEC officials, heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, with around 695,000 Americans dying from heart disease each year.

In 2021, the condition was the leading cause of death in South Carolina with 12,210 dying from heart disease that year.

“The disparities we see across our state in heart health outcomes are troubling, and we want to do everything we can to provide information, tools and access to resources that help all South Carolinians improve their heart health,” said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC director.

“There are steps each of us can take to improve our heart health, and I encourage all of our residents to start at least one new heart-healthy habit this year.”

Dr. Martha Gulati, president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology, advises a plant-based diet.

A plant-based diet is not vegan but a selection of foods that include multiple fruits, plants, and proteins.

“Less than 1% of the United States population eats healthy. Also, reducing alcohol, lowering intakes of salt and processed food, and getting more sleep are all important in maintaining a smart heart lifestyle,” Dr. Gulati said.

Dr. Gulati also points to a new risk assessment tool from that the American Heart Association that predicts the risk for people in the next 10 or 30 years.

High blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking are major risk factors for heart disease, and almost three-quarters of South Carolina adults have one or more risk factors.

DHEC recommends the following tips for a healthy heart include:

  • Stop smoking or vaping and using tobacco products. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Get regular health screenings for cholesterol and blood pressure. 
  • Limit alcohol use. 
  • Take your medicine (if applicable) as directed by your provider. 
  • Manage your diabetes. 
  • Eat a healthy diet that's low in fat, cholesterol and salt. 
  • Move more. At least 30 minutes, most days of the week can make a big difference. 

“A healthy lifestyle is key to having a healthy heart,” said Virginie Daguise, director of DHEC’s Bureau of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention.
“We encourage everyone to take active steps to minimize or eliminate their risk factors, as these small changes can help make a big difference in protecting your heart health.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of women in the United States do not recognize that heart disease is a leading cause of death for women.

African American South Carolinians are also more likely to have risk factors for heart disease, including diabetes and hypertension, obesity, and having a sedentary lifestyle.

DHEC officials encourage all South Carolinians to start at least one new heart-healthy habit this year.

Marcus Flowers is an award-winning content producer who specializes in various topics.