(BPT) – February is Heart Month — and we don’t mean the romantic kind that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day! Heart Month is time to take stock of your cardiovascular health to combat chronic diseases, like heart disease, which is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. The good news is many of the steps you need to take to prevent heart disease are things you can do on your own, just by adopting a few healthy habits. Local communities across the country have been working to make it easier to live healthier through the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge (the Challenge).
This month, the Aetna Foundation announced the two grand prize winners of the Challenge, a two-year national initiative in partnership with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) empowering local organizations to create solutions to their pressing health challenges through more than $1.5 million in grants and prizes.
Let’s look to the Challenge winners and runners-up for ways your community can make the difference when it comes to heart health.
Did you know the distance between your home and the nearest grocery store can have a significant impact on your health? More than 20 million people in the U.S. live in a food desert — an area where access to affordable, healthy food options is limited or nonexistent. Bridgeport, Conn.’s Coalition United to Reach Equity (CURE) changed their food desert by breaking ground on a pop-up market bringing healthy food and jobs. Help your neighborhood by supporting local farmers, healthy food entrepreneurs or visiting a farmer’s or pop-up market.
Find your fitness buddy:
Getting healthy is no easy feat. Having a fitness buddy provides competition, accountability and support. Mecklenburg, NC Village HeartBEAT brought together more than 30,000 people through faith-based organizations to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is always fun for friends to have a little competition, so get your squad together and make this year your healthiest.
Grab a plate:
Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains is consistently linked to improved heart health and a lower risk of heart disease (Mayo Clinic). The Waco-McLennan County, TX community is making it more affordable and easier than ever to access fresh produce by connecting residents to resources such as produce delivery services and healthy cooking demonstrations. Consider what your community offers to help keep your heart health in check.
Step it out:
Walking can play a key role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease (NIH). The Wyandotte, KS Healthy Community Corridor created a Safe Routes to Parks program allowing more people to get outside and exercise by creating access to the county’s outdoor spaces through bike paths and walking clubs. Instead of driving down the street to your local grocery store, grab your sneakers, your reusable bag and start walking!
Can’t get outside to walk? From apps to YouTube videos, there’s an option for every type of workout. Even local communities are getting in on this latest tech trend. Danville Health Collaborative (VA) engaged more than 570 people with their newly developed Fit Mobile app that gives up-to-date class schedules, club specials as well as diet information and healthy meal ideas. Try setting a reminder on your calendar, finding a fitness buddy or downloading a health app to help you follow through on your commitment.
Heart disease is linked to lack of exercise, and getting outside is a step in the right direction. West Louisville Outdoor Recreation Initiative is building a culture where residents connect with nature to improve physical and mental health. Their ECHO Mobile program brings the outdoors to the most urban neighborhoods, introducing children to out-of-the-box activities like canoeing and archery. No matter what you decide to do — walking the dog, hiking or heading to the park — just enjoy the great outdoors.
Find your sanctuary:
Stress can take a major toll on your heart health, so it’s crucial to find times during the day to rest. Hillsborough County, FL created community gardens to increase access to healthy foods and create a place for residents to get in touch with nature. Gardening can improve physical, psychological and social health, which can, from a long-term perspective, alleviate and prevent various health issues (NIH).
To learn about models that your community can follow this Heart Month, visit: http://www.healthiestcities.org and join the conversation #HealthiestCitiesChallenge.