February is Heart month, and not just because of Valentine’s Day. As important as it is, celebrating Valentine’s Day is not as important as celebrating that vital organ, our Heart. We dedicate all of the month of February to a focus on our Heart, and for good reason. We can credit the American Heart Association with Heart Month and should be grateful for the focus on this important subject. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
Heart disease is one disease that we can potentially avoid, or at least, improve our outcome, with good attention to our diet and exercise. Yes, there are genetics involved in heart disease, as I well know. My mother, father, and other relatives had severe heart disease. I cannot change the impact of my family’s genetics on me. But I have a lot of control of my morbidity, and even my mortality, other than the role that is played by genetics.
So, what are the diet and exercise variables involved in heart disease? Diets low in saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium, and high in fiber, are heart healthy. That means more fish, beans, and greens, and less red meat. It also means fewer total calories. It means being at a healthy weight, especially not having a large girth. There are other diet variables that are thought to help reduce the incidence of heart disease, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A diet low in sugar is best, due in part to the strong connection between heart disease and Diabetes.
Exercise is also important; in that it strengthens the heart muscle and helps to keep weight in control. The best exercise for heart health is aerobic because it improves circulation. Brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, tennis, and jumping rope are types of aerobic exercise. Resistance training is also important for heart health, helping to reduce fat and creating leaner muscle mass. Free weights, resistance bands, and push ups are great ways to build up resistance.
I hope it is unnecessary to mention that smoking is a strong risk factor for heart disease and is to be avoided at all costs. In fact, smoking is one of the worst habits we can have and is a culprit in many diseases. What about the connection between alcohol and heart disease? That is not as clear. While drinking in moderation may provide some health benefits for some people, alcohol has so many bad effects that the potential health benefits for some people are not worth the risk.
The ideas mentioned for heart health are not meant to replace the advice of physicians and other health care workers. A routine physical is important as a baseline for heart health and having a health care professional monitor our heart health is recommended. Nor are the points made intended to be all inclusive. But they are some of the most important variables, and a great place to start.
What about stress? What about sleep? Is there a connection between these and heart health? According to the experts, yes. Stress can cause us to use unhealthy behaviors to manage the stress, such as overeating and eating certain foods in an amount that is unhealthy. Not getting enough sleep or the right kind of sleep can increase certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure and stroke.
We have little control over the incidence of many diseases. Such is not true about heart disease. Many of our daily behaviors are either heart healthy or heart damaging. If we can, why would we not do everything possible to improve the likelihood of a heart healthy life?
February and Heart Month are more than half over. It may be time for you to get serious about that most vital of all organs, your Heart. Your life depends on it.