February may have the day of hearts, but every day in it is technically a day for the heart too. February is Philippine Heart Month—it has been since 1973. This means that this is the month when cardiovascular health and its opponents are supposed to be at the forefront of public consciousness.
In other words, it’s the time when we should be most aware of our cardiac health and all the things that could hurt it.
Before we get into Heart Month itself, though, it might be useful to talk first about its necessity.
Why Have a Heart Month at All?
It may not seem urgent until it hits close to you, but cardiovascular health is becoming an issue worldwide. Cardiovascular disease or CVD refers to a class of ailments that affect the heart and the blood vessels connected to it. These ailments actually account for a staggering 17.5 million deaths each year.
17.5 million. That gives them the biggest chunk of the annual fatalities for non-communicable diseases. By comparison, cancers only make up 8.2 million of the non-communicable disease deaths each year.
Additionally alarming to us is that at least three-quarters of the global fatalities for CVDs comes from middle-to-lower-income countries. In terms of pure statistics then, the Filipino population is at higher risk for cardiovascular-disease-related deaths than that of countries like the US.
Want it in hard facts? By 2014, experts were estimating a number of 19 Filipinos dying from heart disease each hour. By early 2016, the cardiovascular disease death rate has already been measured at 161.43 per 100,000 members of the population.
With numbers like these, we need a Heart Month more than ever.
The History of Heart Month
Heart Month is actually not exclusive to the Philippines. For a number of other countries—Canada, the US, and the UK, for example—February is also National Heart Month.
For us in particular, it came into being on 9 January 1973. This was when Proclamation No. 1096 was made. This proclamation made during Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency created Philippine Heart Month.
What was its purpose? To dedicate resources and focus attention on the pressing issues of cardiac health and medical research for the population.
Since then, National Heart Month has been celebrated in the country—often most notably by parties especially interested in promoting the importance of cardiovascular health. Examples would include the Department of Health, the Philippine Heart Center, the Philippine Heart Association, and large pharmaceutical companies producing cardiovascular medicines.
Heart Month Observations Locally and Abroad
Various initiatives and events have taken place over the years for Heart Month’s celebration. The Philippine Department of Health, for instance, has been running a program for healthier living for years now. 2015’s banner showed the DOH telling people to love their loving hearts—“Mahalin mo ang puso mong nagmamahal.”
Amidst promotion of walkathons and free ECGs, the department has also been pitching a number of lifestyle suggestions to Filipinos for a while:
- Eat right
- Manage your stress
- Avoid alcohol
- Stay at a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
The last has been giving special attention even outside of the month by the DOH, which also runs cessation clinics helping smokers kick the tobacco once and for all.
The Heart Fair is another long-running local event held during Heart Month. Organized by the Philippine Heart Association, the fair has contests, group walking events, talks, and booths sponsored by big pharma companies. There are lectures on cardiovascular health as well as screening tests for relevant metrics like heart rate, cholesterol, and more.
The Heart Fair for 2015 was held in Iloilo City, at the Iloilo Esplanade and Ateneo de Iloilo Gymnasium. To reflect public trends at the time, it featured a group Zumba event. Previous Heart Fairs have featured similar group exercises and have been held in areas like the Quezon City Memorial Circle (which has hosted no fewer than 6 of the fairs), Luneta, the UP Diliman Sunken Gardens, Mandaluyong City Hall, and the Mall of Asia.
Regional celebrations have also taken place in the Philippines for Heart Month. For example, the Bicol Medical Center has partnered with the DOH to bring activities like group exercises, lifestyle award contests, and risk factor screening to the Bicol area for Februaries past. The same thing happens in a number of other provinces.
Overseas, other nations have their own celebrations, of course. In the US, for example, there is Million Hearts. This is an initiative aiming to prevent 1 million heart attacks in the country within a 5-year period.
Million Hearts was launched in September of 2011 and aims to meet its goals by 2017. It has aligned efforts from agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, with ones from groups like the American Heart Association, UnitedHealthCare, American Pharmacists’ Association, and the YMCA. Thus US private and public sectors work in concert for this month—just as they do in the Philippines.
Another program worth mentioning in the international context of Heart Month is the World Health Organization’s 25by25. 25by25 is a program to scale back cardiovascular disease mortality rates by 25% come the year 2025.
The focus here is on common risk factors like obesity and smoking, with the program aiming to control those factors. With 80% of strokes and premature heart attacks billed as preventable, this program takes the optimistic view of possibilities for the future.
Participating: How You Can Celebrate Heart Month
Can you take part in Heart Month observations too? Most certainly! The first way to do it is to actually adopt the DOH’s advice by cutting down on all the controllable risk factors for heart disease, of course. That means giving up smoking, fighting obesity and inactivity, and the like.
But individual health is just the beginning. Heart Month is supposed to be about ensuring that more people know what they can do to avoid CVD. This is why part of your Heart Month observations should be to help spread the word and get involved in activities that promote cardiovascular health awareness for everyone.
The DOH has something like it in its Pilipinas Go4Health program—you can get involved with its community on Facebook and other social media—but there are many others to try. You can even help just by telling those in your circles about Heart Month and why they need to care about it. Get on your social media accounts now and do your part to spread awareness! Who knows, the next heart you end up saving in the process could be one that already loves you or whom you already love.