Health Buzz: Wear Red and Learn ABC’s for Heart Month

Is domestic violence most common on Super Bowl Sunday? Plus, does it take three weeks to form a habit?


February is American Heart Month

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer for Americans. One in three deaths is caused by heart attack or stroke, amounting to about 800,000 fatalities each year. Even if one survives a heart attack or stroke, the condition often leads to disabilities and loads of expenses. "Fortunately, there are many simple steps we can take to prevent heart disease, such as eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and not smoking," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in a statement today. The HHS department aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2016 in a program aptly named "Million Hearts," which launched in September 2011. And just how will they pull this off? The program seeks to empower Americans to make healthy choices, by avoiding tobacco and reducing red meat and sodium intake, as well as improving care for people who already need treatment, by teaching them the ABCs. A: Aspirin for folks at risk; B: Blood Pressure Control; C: Cholesterol Control; and S: Smoking Cessation.

The American Heart Association, too, plays a big role in American Heart month. In fact, today is National Wear Red Day, to bring attention to cardiovascular disease and its threat to women.

Is Domestic Violence Most Common on Super Bowl Sunday?

Urban myths rarely have a useful purpose other than to confound, outrage, and frighten people into passing them along. But there's a silver lining to this one—the idea that Super Bowl Sunday is linked to the highest incidences of domestic abuse in the country.

While experts in the field dismiss that theory, they value the increased attention paid to domestic violence on the occasion.

"The Super Bowl does not cause domestic violence, and it doesn't increase domestic violence, but it does increase the public's awareness of the issue, which will help victims learn about help and resources," says Cindy Southworth, vice president of development and innovation at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. [Is Domestic Violence Most Common on Super Bowl Sunday?]

Does It Only Take 3 Weeks to Form a Habit?

I've heard it said hundreds of times, writes U.S. News blogger Yoni Freedhoff From patients, from colleagues, and sometimes from the media: "It takes three weeks to form a habit." But in my experience, both personally and professionally, the notion that true habits—behaviors that persist in the face of major life upheavals and adversities—can be forged in 21 days flies in the face of reality. So I decided to research the claim.

My readings took me to a self-help book written in 1960 by Maxwell Maltz, a cosmetic surgeon, who reported that it took 21 days for amputees to stop feeling phantom limb pain. Maltz then extrapolated that consciously cultivating a new behavior for just 15 minutes a day for 21 days could create a habit. This didn't strike me as particularly rigorous or convincing proof.

Looking to more modern research wasn't any more helpful. The most recent piece I could find was a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology that looked at the time it took for subjects to "automate" an eating, drinking or exercise behavior "carried out daily in the same context"—i.e., a habit. And with examples such as the time it took to automatically drink a glass of water after waking, or to do 50 sit-ups before breakfast, they concluded that it took participants between 18 and 254 days for these behaviors to happen "automatically." [Read more: Does It Only Take 3 Weeks to Form a Habit?]

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