Love Your Heart

Cartoon of a heart with arms flexing its biceps

February – the month of love. Do you know what else needs some love? Your heart! February is indeed American Hearth Month, which is a great time to learn about heart disease. About 600,000 people die of heart disease every year, which is one in every four deaths. Heart disease continues to be the number one killer (or “cause of death”) of both women and men in the United States, but simple lifestyle changes can help you protect yourself from this disease.


What is heart disease?

Heart disease is an umbrella term used for any type of disease that affects the heart. These diseases develop over time. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, which can cause heart attacks. Symptoms include angina (chest pain), shortness of breath, pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms, when the blood vessels in your body are narrowed. (3) Women experiences chest discomfort differently than men. See signs of a heart attack for women.

What are some other types of heart disease?

  • Congestive Heart Failure: when the heart can no longer pump blood to the rest of the body. This may result from a heart attack, hypertension, diabetes, and/or coronary artery disease. This type is common in older people.
  • Coronary Microvascular Disease: a disease where plaque builds up in the smallest arteries (a type of blood vessel), restricting blood flow to the heart, thus increasing the risk of a heart attack.
  • Cyanotic Heart Disease: a birth defect resulting in low oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Hypertensive Heart Disease: more commonly known as hypertension, is when the pressure inside the arteries is too high, causing the heart to work harder at pumping blood.

What are the causes of heart disease?

There are many contributing factors to heart disease including high blood pressure, high LDL (a.k.a. “bad”) cholesterol, and smoking. Some medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also increase risk for heart disease, such as diabetes, being overweight or obese, poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol consumption. (2)

What does this mean to me as a Japanese American?

For a long time, Japanese Americans had a lower risk of heart disease – however, that has been changing. According to a study done in 2010 using the National Institutes of Health grants, Japanese Americans were more obese and had much higher rates of diabetes and heart disease compared to Japanese living in JapanSome of the reasons may include that Japanese Americans are more likely to adopt Western culture behaviors such as diet (which includes more meat and less dietary fiber), and physical inactivity. (1)

What can I do to love (a.k.a. “protect”) my heart?

  • The first step is to learn if you are at risk for heart disease. If so, what are your risk factors and what can you do about it? See the risk factors.
  • Check your family history – if your relatives have had heart disease, you are at a greater risk for it too.
  • Follow your physician’s instructions.
  • Eat a healthy diet, one that is low in salt, fat, and cholesterol and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Asian Tofu Salad Recipe from American Heart Association
  • Physical activity – go on a date with your heart by taking a 10-15 minute walk 5 days a week! See fitness tips for older adults
  • Smoking is your heart’s enemy – if you smoke, quit as soon as possible. (

Where can I get more information?

American Heart Association

1-800-AHA-USA-1 (1-800-242-8721)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)

National Institutes of Health

TTY 301-402-9612

“Love Your Heart: Take Steps to Reduce Heart Risks”

Mayo Clinic
“Heart-Healthy Diet: 8 Steps To Prevent Heart Disease”

Support to Quit

1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)

(1) American Heart Association (2010). CVD in Asian Americans: Are There Disparities and Are They Important? Retrieved from
(2)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Heart Disease Facts. Retrieved from
(3)Mayo Clinic (2013). Heart Disease Symptoms. Retrieved from