This could just be one of the worst months of the year, particularly if you don\’t like cold and snow, saved only by Valentine\’s Day – that sweet and corny holiday. I\’ve always loved it, mainly because it seems to bring out affection in even the most undemonstrative people. So, just like last year, I\’m going to discuss in this column that ubiquitous symbol of this holiday, the heart. Also, in case you didn\’t know, the American Heart Association, as part of the “Go Red for Women” movement, has designated February 1 as “National Wear Red Day” to emphasize the importance of heart disease in women.

By now, you\’ve probably heard or read all about coronary heart disease (CHD) in women: how it is the number one killer of women in this country; how the symptoms are often quite different from those that men have; what the factors are that put you at risk for CHD; and how you can actually decrease your chances of getting it by modifying those risk factors that can be modified.

One thing you may not know, though, is that the very same factors that put you at risk for heart disease, also put you at risk for strokes. Very recently, a study came out which showed that women ages 45 to 64 were more than twice as likely to have had a stroke than men in the same age group. It is known that approximately 30% of strokes in women occur in those of us under the age of 65.

So, if fear of getting heart disease doesn\’t motivate you to change those risk factors that you can (though it should), then fear of having a stroke should definitely do so. Briefly summarized below are the factors that put you at risk for CHD and stroke, and what you can do about them. (Please see my columns from February 2007 and March 2007 for an extensive discussion of this topic. They are archived on this site.)

The risk factors that you can NOT change include: family history, gender, increasing age, and history of a prior heart attack or stroke. Of these, you should definitely be aware if there is a family history in order to let your clinician know.

Those risk factors that you CAN change and ways to change them include:

1.) High blood pressure
2.) Diabetes
3.) High cholesterol [for women, particularly a low “good” cholesterol (HDL); and a high “bad” cholesterol (LDL)]
4.) Weight gain and obesity

You should find out if you have any of these. Always have your blood pressure and weight checked at every office visit with your primary care clinician, and get blood tests for fasting blood sugar and lipid panel at your annual check-up. If you have any of the first three of these, know that losing weight and exercising can, in many cases, return them to normal; and of course, losing weight and exercising are healthy for the rest of your body as well. If you take medication for the first three of these, make it a point not to forget.

5.) Cigarette smoking

Stop now!

6) Sedentary lifestyle

Change it now!

Doing the above will protect you from having CHD (and stroke), and should keep your heart and brain healthy. Now, an exercise for your brain: which BBW sang the title song of this column?

Hope you had a wonderful Valentine\’s Day and enjoyed a bit of dark chocolate which is also good for your heart (the important words in that last sentence being “a bit”)!