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  • Writer's pictureJo Soria

This Valentine’s Day, Protect Your Heart

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

"Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world." – Lucille Ball

February isn't just about candy hearts and poetry; it's also a time to think about how to best take care of the real-life, beating battery that lives in your chest and keeps you moving.

In honor of American Heart Month, let's see what the latest research has to say about protecting yourself—and the ones you love—against everything from heartache to heart disease.

The Heart of the Matter

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease remains the #1 cause of death in the U.S., with nearly 1 million lives claimed in 2020 alone.

Heart disease is also a costly burden for American families; average annual costs related to heart disease and its treatment soared to nearly $240 billion in just the U.S. in 2018 and 2019.

We can't sugarcoat this even for Valentine's Day: cardiovascular disease remains a risk to every American, regardless of age or background. Because even if you don't personally experience a cardiovascular event in your lifetime, there's a good chance that someone you love (or at least know) will.

But while it's important to know these facts, it's also critical not to dwell here. Instead, let's take a look at how we can do better and what we can do to reduce our personal, family, and community risks.

What is Life's Essential 8?

"Life's Essential 8" refers to the eight heart health factors the American Heart Association uses to track Americans' progress toward achieving nationwide cardiovascular health. It also doubles as a handy checklist to assess your heart health priorities.

Life’s Essential 8: Your Heart Health Checklist

Send a lifelong valentine to yourself by incorporating these goals into your lifestyle:

  • Avoidance of smoking

  • Staying physically active

  • Prioritizing nutrition

  • Keeping body weight within a healthy range

  • Getting quality sleep (and enough of it!)

  • Maintaining control of cholesterol

  • Maintaining healthy blood pressure

  • Maintaining control of blood sugar

If you follow our Trusted Referral Network blog, you know that we’ll be coming back to cover, or may have already covered, some of the topics associated with Life's Essential 8 in-depth, like this one. But for now, let’s continue with a little Valentine's sampler box of research related to personal and community heart health.

Walking Away from Cardiovascular Risks

Want to know how a senior citizen you love can cut their risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event in half? The answer lies in movement. Research shows that adults over 60 who walk 6,000 to 9,000 steps per day have a 40-50% reduced risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, regardless of their walking pace.

"Cardiovascular disease is a disease of aging and often doesn't come to fruition until we're at older ages," says Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. With support from the CDC, she’s studying the relationship between cardiovascular health and steps per day.

The key takeaway is not to be discouraged if you can't hit the often-hyped goal of 10,000 steps per day. Instead of giving up entirely because a goal that ambitious feels unattainable, focus on what you can do. If you’re walking an average of 3,000 steps per day, focus less on making a massive jump to 10,000 steps and think about small incremental changes you can make to get to 4,000.

Ways to Sneak in Some Steps

  • Making your own trips to the grocery store instead of using meal or grocery delivery

  • Taking stairs instead of elevators

  • Parking a little farther away from your destination

  • Build a pairing habit by combining your favorite TV show with a treadmill session or a go-to podcast with an outdoor walk

  • Volunteering to walk dogs at a local shelter (this one’s great for the heart in more ways than one!)

  • Find inspiration by joining a local run/walk group or downloading a new app

Mental Health Help

We must proactively work to recognize the warning signs of mental health crises in ourselves and those around us so we can seek or recommend help if needed. Secondly, it’s critical that we work together in our communities to provide access to mental health services for anyone in need.

Most importantly, know how to get help or find help for someone experiencing a mental health crisis. You can use the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or Veterans Crisis Line for 24/7 support. You are not alone.

Community Care Through Education

We do everything we can to protect the hearts of those we love. What do we do once we've taken steps to protect our hearts? Consider taking a Hands-Only or Bystander CPR certification class so you can help if someone around you experiences a cardiovascular event.

Breaking CPR Stigma

Be the Beat, and other American Heart Association campaigns are proactively working to enhance education and combat uncertainty regarding civilian-administered CPR, even among children. And by now, we’ve likely all seen demonstrations of the popular songs we can use to maintain proper rhythm when performing CPR. The more we educate ourselves now, the more prepared we’ll be if and when we’re needed.

We’ll leave you with a video from the popular Youtube channel, The Fire Department Chronicles. Here, firefighter and content creator Jason Patton shares some light-hearted but helpful insight on the best beats for CPR.

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