American Heart Month :: A Focus on Heart Health


February is American Heart Month. This month, women are encouraged to focus on our cardiovascular health and wellbeing. But it also provides a good opportunity for the whole family to focus on heart healthy habits.  

What is heart disease? 

Heart disease encompasses a multitude of health problems. According to the American Heart Association, the most common type is coronary artery disease, which is related to atherosclerosis, when plaque builds up in the walls of your arteries. The most common outcomes of unmanaged atherosclerosis include heart attack and stroke. 

Like many others, I have a family history of cardiovascular disease, but I thought I would not have to worry about my heart health until I was much older. Despite my genetic history, I have always considered myself healthy. I eat well and exercise when I can. With the exception of the end months of pregnancy and those postpartum months, I have always slept really well. I go to the doctor regularly and get my screening labs done yearly. 

I had a condition with both of my pregnancies that resulted in some unexpected health problems, putting me at risk for chronic cardiovascular disease. What seemed like a problem that I would deal with “some time in the future,” glaringly became a problem to deal with immediately. 

As mothers, we sometimes put our health needs on the back burner because we think we need to focus on the health of our children first. But whether we are at risk for heart disease or not, as we age it does become more and more important to focus on building and maintaining heart healthy habits. 

As women, and as families, what are the things we can focus on to improve our heart health?

Physical Activity

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended amount of physical activity for adults is at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities would include brisk walking, dancing or gardening. Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities would include hiking, running or swimming. 


There are numerous resources available regarding nutrition for health, but I have found through all of my research that the recommendations boil down to a few basic takeaways. The first is eating a mostly whole-food diet and avoiding packaged, processed foods as much as possible. The second is a fiber-rich diet, full of a large variety of fruits and vegetables. The third is to be sure to include healthy fats in the diet, in moderation. Whether you follow a plant protein-based or meat protein-based diet, there are ways to modify any eating lifestyle to make it more heart healthy. 


I have written numerous times about the health benefits of an adequate amount of high quality sleep. Poor sleep can put you at risk for a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease. Most adults need on average, seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. 

Routine Health Screenings

If you are a woman in your 30s, 40s or beyond, it’s important to have a Primary Care Physician who is not your OBGYN. You need to have a healthcare provider who is looking at the whole picture when it comes to your health, and monitoring labs, among other important health markers.  

Heart Health for the Whole Family 

All of this sounds great but what if, like us, you feel like you don’t have much time to commit to these things? First, I would encourage you to pick the one to two areas that you can commit to and focus on those. 

Our family has implemented a heart healthy lifestyle by building habits into our daily routines that were already happening. For exercise, we try to take at least three family walks per week. We also participate in quick family home workouts whenever we can. This can (and often does) involve the kids too. 

As for nutrition, we try to feed our girls what we eat, for the most part. Do they always eat it? No, but we do regularly offer them a variety of healthy proteins, fats, fruits and veggies. We try not to make a habit of making special meals separate from ours, especially on the weekend. To add to that point, we make a habit of cooking at home for most of our meals. We rarely go out to eat. For us, we would rather spend money on other things. We also like knowing what’s in the food we are serving our children when we cook at home. 

When it comes to sleep, during the week we try to go to bed not much later than our kids do. For us, this is because we start our days really early at our house. Of course we have our typical evening responsibilities and it’s nice to have some down time after they go to bed, but we try to go to bed on time to clock those seven to eight hours (even if it is broken up by a waking child). Although it’s easy to get in the habit of staying up late after the kids go down, this can be an area where parents are really losing out on precious sleep time. 

All of the recommendations mentioned above are personal to our family. These lifestyle habits are a product of our kids’ ages, our work schedules and our personal goals and values for our family. I encourage you to build in healthy habits that make sense for your family, given your current circumstances. 

I would encourage you to check out the American Heart Association’s website for more information and links to additional resources. Happy Heart Month!

What do you do to keep your hearth healthy?

Previous article$1 Admission to the South Carolina State Museum on First Sundays
Next articleGo, See Explore: Big Air Trampoline Park
Heather Blanton Burns
Heather Blanton Burns lives in Columbia with her husband and daughter. Natives of South Carolina, they love taking road trips to visit family, as well as spending time at the lakes, beaches and mountains nearby. Heather is a Board Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Certified Gentle Sleep Coach. She received her undergraduate degree from the College of Charleston and her doctoral degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. She cares for children of all ages at a small pediatric practice locally. She founded a small business, Cultivating Bright Futures, in 2020 to support mothers through education and provide encouragement for mothers at every step along their motherhood journey. When she’s not working, Heather enjoys reading, spending quality time with family and friends, staying involved in the community through Junior League, eating delicious food at local restaurants, checking out local events in Columbia and staying active through walking, yoga and barre.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here