The month of February is a matter of the Heart. I’m not referring to Valentine’s Day, for the moment, which symbolizes a worthy sentiment to those we care about, but rather a matter of the heart. Literally. Do you have a healthy heart, and are you following habits that promote it?
The cause for concern is the bell toll warning the health community has been issuing for many years. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. One in four deaths occur because of heart disease. Here in New Jersey, in 2016, more than 18,500 New Jersey residents died of heart disease and more than 3,400 died of a stroke and the tragedy is that much of this is preventable.
I have frequently offered suggestions about maintaining a healthy lifestyle in these blogs. I understand that healthy citizens are better citizens because a lifestyle that promotes a healthful approach to living protects citizens and leaves them with more opportunity to engage in other, often more enjoyable activities. As you might expect, there is a larger issue here, too. Staying healthy as a society reduces our health care costs both personally and to the government agencies or medical facilities that treat us.
My point here is a simple one, and I’ve mentioned this before. Even small changes in your daily life, especially when implemented over time, can have a significant effect on your heart and certainly your overall heath. These are not earth-shattering changes but rather ones that are easy to implement.
For example, the Cleveland Clinic, generally regarded as the premier heart institute in the United States, offers these five easy-to-follow tips:
- Eat Healthy Fats. Avoid trans fats. Fats are necessary in a diet, but trans fats clog arteries and increase your chance of having a stroke in your lifetime. Trans fats often appear in packaged baked goods, snack food, margarine and fried fast foods.
- Stop sitting for too long. Recent research suggests that sitting too much — even if you exercise regularly — is bad for you. We live in a sedentary society. Get up and move around throughout the day. How important is this? “When looking at the combined results of several observational studies that included nearly 800,000 people, researchers found that in those who sat the most, there was an associated 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events and a 90 percent increase in death caused by these events,” according to the Cleveland Clinic [The emphasis is mine]. It’s serious, so get up and take a few steps. Sitting for too long also increases the risk of a blood clot. (One physiologist suggests standing up for two minutes for every 20 that you are sitting.)
- Pick up that toothbrush and floss, too. A healthy mouth is a sign of overall good health. Apparently, people suffering from periodontal (gum) disease end up with the same risk factors as those with heart disease.
- Sleep. Aim for seven to eight each night. Your heart will thank you. If you have sleep apnea, seek treatment immediately. Many people don’t get enough sleep. Make it a priority.
- Run from second hand smoke. Its effects can be deadly, especially to your heart. And don’t be modest about displaying your lack of acceptance for second hand smoke, especially if you have children around. “Exposure to tobacco smoke contributed to about 34,000 heart disease deaths and 7,300 cancer deaths each year.”
Source: The Cleveland Clinic
These are simple tips, with long-lasting benefits and worth reviewing this month. Additionally, CVS Minute Clinics are offering free heart health screenings any Thursday during the month of February. The screenings will provide five key personal health numbers that determine risk for heart disease such as total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index. This type of screening can make a difference in raising awareness about heart disease, and perhaps change your life. I’m going to get checked out this week as heart disease unfortunately runs in my family.
And because it is February, there is another issue of the heart we shouldn’t forget. Today is Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. Share a valentine with someone you care about. Let them know by card, word or deed that they are special and that you appreciate them. And go just a little farther this year. Send a valentine, maybe to an elderly person, who hasn’t received a valentine or even a note of goodwill and affection in years. Now it’s your turn to make a difference.
Take care of your heart in February (and following months) and remember to be thoughtful to all on Valentine’s Day.
That’s my take, what’s yours?