If you can believe it, one in three deaths occur because of heart disease and stroke. That averages to over 2,000 deaths per day. Although we all try to do what we can (hopefully) to create a healthy heart, there is ALWAYS ROOM TO KNOW (and do) MORE! Let’s review a little information about heart disease – or rather, heart health.
First of all, heart disease and pulmonary disease are not necessarily “separate” diseases. Your cardiovascular (heart), pulmonary (lungs), and renal (kidney) systems all work hand in hand in hand. Every second of every minute of every day. They work together in regulating your pH. Your blood pressure affects all three almost simultaneously. They strive continuously to create an atmosphere of what is called homeostasis – a healthy environment in which your body can optimally function. If your kidneys are sick, it could very easily affect your lungs at some point. If your lungs are sick, your heart will feel the strain. If you heart is sick your kidneys work harder. So, working to create a healthier lifestyle for one, will directly create a healthier lifestyle for all, and you WILL notice.
Speaking of healthy lifestyles, let’s start at the basics. We all need exercise. As an important part of healthy lifestyle, exercise is required for us to be our best. One thing that may be confusing when focusing on the heart is that exercise, in and of itself, is enough to create a healthy heart. This is not true. Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t out exercise a bad diet?” Well, it’s true. Exercise is not enough, alone, to stop heart disease. It can help you lower your blood pressure. It can help you lose weight. It can elevate your “feel good” chemicals making you really feel better. It can also help you lower your cholesterol, increase your strength, improve your balance, increase flexibility, help you manage your stress level (reducing stress is a major component in heart health), decrease the tendency toward accidents, falls, and injuries, and (bonus) it will even improve your sex life. But exercise, alone, will not prevent cardiovascular disease. To accomplish that you must do a variety of other things. BUT, your workout is a fabulous place to start. So what else needs to be done?
Partake in a Healthy Diet. Mother nature has provided us with a variety of foods that are ideal for a heart healthy diet. One rule you can follow in establishing a diet – rather, eating habits – that are good for your heart is to eat an abundance of what mother nature offers. Vegetables and fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and phytochemicals that are much needed for a healthy body. Much moreso than you would guess. While you can “buy” these vitamins in pill form, that doesn’t, by any means, effectively replace what your diet may be missing. Food, in its natural state, is loaded with these vitamins in a much more absorbable and digestible state than they are in pill form. Feed your body naturally what it needs. Snack on veggies instead of chips. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the snacks you love, but as you exclude negative, or calorie empty foods (foods that are loaded with flavor and calories but lack essential nutrition) your body will thank you, will feel better, and will stop craving those things that you may now crave so much. If you have dietary habits that need improvement, don’t make all the changes at once. Remember that even the smallest change is improvement. Tackle one bad food at a time, and you will find success. Your heart will thank you, plus, if you have lung disease, you will breathe better, too, because many of the unhealthy foods we eat break down into carbon dioxide, creating an excess of carbon dioxide in the blood, consequently making it more difficult to breathe. Easier breathing – another benefit your heart will thank you for.
How old do you have to be before heart disease is a concern? The answer may not be what you think, because heart disease does not only affect older people. Let’s look at the American lifestyle to gather an example. The premise of give me more, and make it bigger can apply to anything from (but not limited to) houses, money, jobs, trucks, jewelry, clothing, and yes, especially food. This constant drive for “more” can lead to a stressful lifestyle. Stress put excess strain on our hearts. Also, as far as food is concerned, did you know the average serving size from a fast food restaurant has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades? What we once considered to be a full plate is no longer enough. This, along with other factors (such as smoking), have increased health problems when considering weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes (a disease that can be very hard on your organs), and heart disease. Statistics show that currently one in three Americans suffer from cardiovascular disease. Not all of these people are senior citizens.
What about genetics? They do play a role – they do not decide your fate. While your great uncles heart attack may mean you are at a genetic predisposition to have heart disease, it does not mean that you will have a heart attack. You do have the ability to help yourself. Your genes gave you blue eyes, brown hair, that funny way your second toe is longer than your first. Your genes may carry a predisposition to many things – but your lifestyle and choices can help influence which path you take.
Last, but certainly not least, it is important to know when you may be suffering form a heart attack. Because the signs are different in women than they are in men, it is good to be familiar with what may affect you and those you love.
If you are a woman, look for these signs:
chest pain – a feeling of tightness of fullness, can be anywhere in the chest.
upset stomach, or stomach pain – feeling of nausea or lightheadedness
shortness of breath
pain in shoulder, neck, or back
you may feel like you have the flu
symptoms may persist for a few days
If you are a man, look for these signs:
chest pain – a feeling of tightness of fullness, may be persistent or may come and go – strong symptom in men
pain in stomach or feeling of nausea
pain in back, neck, or arms
shortness of breath
Maybe, in honor of heart month, we can all pledge to change one thing in our lives to improve our heart health. What would yours be?