February is American Heart Month

As we settle into 2024, it’s a good time to consider new habits for a healthier year. February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and its partners encourage you to think about making a few simple changes to your daily routine so that can help you reduce the risk of heart disease.

  • Choose healthy meals and snacks.  Include a lot of fruit and vegetables in your diet, and choose foods lower in sodium and saturated fat. Try some heart healthy recipes and check out the MyPlate resources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Make physical activity a regular part of your day.  Adults should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking, running, bicycling a week. Learn more about ways to increase your physical activity throughout the day on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s physical activity page.
  • Take steps to quit smoking by contacting Quit Now Virginia, which offers free telephone or web-based counseling services and also offers Text2Quit support, self-help materials and referrals to local resources. 1-800- QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or learn more at the Quit Now Virginia Website.
  • Check your blood pressure.  Read more about ways to prevent and manage blood pressure. Here are some helpful tips for talking with a doctor to manage and check your blood pressure.

The CDC has awarded VDH two multi-million-dollar grants to address heart disease in the Commonwealth, named the CDC National Cardiovascular Health Program and the Innovative Cardiovascular Health Program. The two grants will establish the Virginia Cardiovascular Health Program, implemented and managed by the Office of Family Health – Division of Prevention and Health Promotion. The Virginia Cardiovascular Health Program unites state and local partners to implement and evaluate CDC evidence-based strategies to improve blood pressure control, reduce disparities in cardiovascular disease, and connect communities at high risk for heart disease and stroke to clinical and social services. For more information, https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/heart-disease/

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) – first observed in 1999.  This day recognizes how HIV unequally affects Black people.

Black communities have made great strides in reducing HIV.  Yet, factors such as racism and discrimination may affect whether Black people seek or receive HIV services.  Mistrust in the medical system may also be a factor.

NBHAAD is a chance to increase:

  • HIV education;
  • Testing;
  • Community involvement; and
  • Treatment among Black communities.

This year’s NBHAAD theme is Engage, Educate, Empower: Uniting to End HIV/AIDS in Black Communities.

We engage to talk about ways to better involve Black communities in HIV/AIDS efforts.  This can include:

  • Outreach programs;
  • Community partnerships; and
  • Working with local community members to promote HIV programs;
    • This can help promote HIV programming and talking about HIV/AIDS.

We educate by focusing on improving HIV/AIDS education among Black youth and adults.  This could cover the latest HIV information such as:

Lastly, we can empower by highlighting stories and strategies that have successfully empowered Black people living with HIV/AIDS.  Empowerment can be through advocacy, policy change, access to care, and support systems.

Read more about NBHAAD or find resources to share online from VDH or CDC.

Furthermore, if you or a loved one has questions about HIV or wants to be linked to local resources, we can help.  Call the Virginia Disease Prevention Hotline today at (800) 533-4148.  You can also reach the hotline at hiv-stdhotline@vdh.virginia.gov.

World Cancer Day

February 4 is World Cancer Day. Why is this important? More than 10 million people die from cancer each year, and that number is expected to grow. It is the second leading cause of death worldwide.

We know more about cancer than ever before! Learn more about ways you could reduce your chance of developing cancer. At least 1/3 of cancers are preventable.

Not every risk factor is changeable, but there are lots of ways to reduce your risk.

Ways to Reduce Your Risk 

  • Choose a healthy lifestyle. Proper diet, physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight all help reduce your risk. 
  • Reduce how much you drink. Alcohol is linked with cancers of the mouth, bowel, and breast, among others. 
  • Quit smoking and using other forms of tobacco. Use of tobacco has been found to cause 15 different types of cancers! 
  • Avoid ultraviolet radiation, such as the sun and tanning beds. Take care if you must be outdoors. Stay in the shade, cover your skin, wear sunscreen, and do self-examinations.  
  • Get regular checkups and cancer screenings. Virginia’s Every Woman’s Life program offers free breast and cervical screenings. 
  • Talk to your doctor about HBV and HPV vaccines, which can help reduce the chance of liver, cervical, and other cancers. 
  • Lower your exposure to radon. Test your home for radon with an inexpensive test from the VDH. 

Join us on World Cancer Day and take a step toward reducing your risk for cancer. Every step reduces your risk.

Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Awareness Month

January is Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Awareness Month. We would like to remind you that while winter sports are fun, they can be dangerous, so taking the proper precautions can help you avoid injuries, like a TBI!

How does a TBI occur?  

A TBI can occur when an external force impacts the brain. This can happen if you fall or are hit in the head with a hard object. In addition to winter sports, other aspects of winter weather, like icy walkways, can also increase risk of falls leading to TBIs.

What are the signs of a TBI?  

  • Headache 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Confusion 
  • Dizziness 
  • Fatigue  
  • Trouble with speech 
  • Blurry vision

How can I prevent a TBI?  

  • Wear protective gear, especially a helmet, when participating in winter sports.
  • Move carefully over slippery surfaces.
  • Be aware of changes in the weather that may affect roads and slopes.

If you suspect you or someone else has a TBI, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Getting fast treatment can reduce the chances of more serious complications.

National Radon Action Month

January is National Radon Action Month. But what is radon? Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas. It’s naturally occurring, and you can’t see, smell, or taste it. It’s created when uranium in the soil, rocks, or water breaks down. 

Want to know more? Here are some facts about radon.  

  • Radon can cause cancer. It is thought to be the second leading cause of lung cancer, and the first leading cause in people who have never smoked.
  • Radon seeps into homes through exposed dirt. This often happens in the lower levels of homes, such as the basement or other rooms in direct contact with the ground.
  • Radon exposure from drinking well water is low, but it can increase the amount of radon in the air.
  • Radon levels will be higher in the winter and lower in the summer. It’s best to test your home during fair weather.  

Do you want to know if you’re at risk? Are you interested in testing your home for radon? You can order an inexpensive test kit from the Virginia Department of Health. You can also view the EPA’s Radon Risk Map for Virginia.  

Would you like even more information? Visit VDH’s frequently asked question page.

How To Set a Good Goal for the New Year

New Year’s Goals and Resolutions  

The new year is upon us, and many of us will make New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, many people have lost sight of those resolutions by the second Friday in January! This year, instead of making grand resolutions, try setting a few good goals.  

How to set good goals

  • Start small. Setting small, sustainable goals is better than setting lofty goals that are out of reach. You can always build on small goals as you reach them.  
  • Track your progress. Take photos of your journey, track your wins in a journal, or log successes on your calendar. Seeing that progress will help encourage you to continue when your motivation starts to wane.  
  • Tell others and seek support. Share your goals with friends and family, or look for groups on social media of other people who are working on the same or similar goals. Having someone to cheer you on makes hard work a little easier. 
  • Celebrate your successes. Success doesn’t only happen when you meet the end goal. Celebrate each milestone and win along the way as well. If you think of your bigger goal like a football field, you may be aiming for the endzone, but don’t forget that every time you cross a yard line, you’ve accomplished something!  

Great, let’s set some goals! But, now what? What goals should you set? VDH has some suggestions for you!  

Here’s to a happy and healthy new year from all of us at VDH.  

Safe Driving This Holiday Season

Holidays mean travel for many people. Keep yourself and your fellow travelers safe by following these tips while traveling during the holiday season.

  • Avoid distractions. Keep your eyes on the road when you’re driving and use voice-activated and hands-free services if you must use navigation, make a call, or send a text. An even better alternative would be to ask a passenger to do it for you!
  • Use safety tools. For adults and older children, this means to wear your seatbelt. For younger children, this means to be secured in a car seat or booster with harnesses properly fastened. Even if you’re only traveling a short distance, these safety tools can save lives.
  • Plan ahead. Plot your route ahead of time and check the weather conditions. Check for road closures and other traffic delays, especially if you’re traveling in an unfamiliar area. Watch weather conditions, don’t drive if the roads are unsafe, and carry an emergency kit.
  • Don’t drive when you’re impaired. Ask a friend or family member for a ride or use a ride-share service.  

Following these tips will help make sure you get to your holiday destination and back home safely. It’ll keep other drivers on the road safer too.

Happy Holidays from VDH!

National Handwashing Awareness Week

Washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs. Did you know that you can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related and 1 in 5 respiratory-related illnesses, just by washing your hands? It’s true! Good hand hygiene starts with washing your hands properly.  

Follow these five steps to clean hands.  

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water. Warm or cold is fine.  
  2. Apply soap and lather by rubbing your hands together. Remember to get the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. 
  3. Scrub for at least 20 seconds. You can hum the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end twice if you need a timer.  
  4. Rinse your hands under clean, running water.  
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. 

Yes, it’s that easy!  

But, wait! What if soap and water aren’t available? You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as well, but make sure it’s at least 60% alcohol. Need more information? Visit www.cdc.gov/handwashing. 

Aah! Fresh clean hands!  

Make Thanksgiving Table-Talk Something to Chew On

In between, the good food, the football games and other activities that come along with Thanksgiving, consider spicing-up the holiday gathering with a conversation about health. In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona declared Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day. The idea behind the designation is to encourage those gathering for Thanksgiving dinner to talk about their family health history and document diseases and conditions that affect family members.

Start the conversation by asking about your close relatives’ health—people like your parents, grandparents, siblings or aunts and uncles. Knowing your family health history is important when it comes to you managing your health and your medical care. You might be asking why? Consider this–there are some common conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancers and stroke that are genetic, or run in families. When you’re equipped with this information, it can help you and your health care provider develop a plan to lower your risk of developing diseases that may be common in your family. So, this Thanksgiving, remember to add family health history to the menu.

The Great American Smokeout 2023

Are you a smoker, e-cigarette or tobacco user? This November 16th, join thousands of people across the U.S. in quitting for the day and take the first step toward a healthier, smoke-free life.

Benefits of Quitting

  • Reduces your risk of illness and disease
  • Reduces your financial burden
  • Improves your quality of life
  • Improves your health from day one, and into the future

Quitting isn’t easy, but there are tools and strategies that can help you make that important change.

  • Give yourself time. You don’t have to stop smoking in one day. It’s a journey.
  • Have a plan. Quit Now Virginia can help you make a plan. It’s free to all Virginians 13 and older.
  • Seek support. Share your story and your goals with friends and family. Look for local or online support groups.
  • Talk to your doctor. Prescription medications may be available to help you quit for good.

The American Cancer Society and the Virginia Department of Health can also help. Use these resources to increase your chance of quitting all tobacco products. Join us on the Great American Smokeout and take the first step on your journey to a healthier future. Your future is brighter without the lighter.