Thank you for sticking with me on the journey. This is day three of our simple pledge series. Today’s pledge is all about your heart health. I know that eating better and moving more are both great for your heart but there are other steps to take. These steps focus directly on the heart. They can be helpful elsewhere in your health journey but I like to take specific care of my heart these days.
There is a saying that I am sure everyone knows. “Home is Where the Heart is.” The term “heart” has become synonymous with “center”. The “heart’ of the mountain or the “heart” of the problem. “Heart” is also a term that means life, love, and even when we make a promise (cross my heart). All of this speaks to just how important a heart is, not just to live but to be alive.
A Healthy Heart
Although very complex (as organs go), keeping your heart healthy is relatively simple. Eating a diet that is low in unhealthy fats. This will keep cholesterol from clogging up the pipes (arteries). I am sure we all know what happens when they get clogged. The blood flow is restricted or gets cut off completely and then all the real trouble starts. Some causes of heart disease are beyond our control. Things like family history, age, and even race are factors in causing problems. The good news is, that through awareness and understanding, you can reduce your risk greatly.
Let’s look a bit closer
Did you know that most people associate heart attack and stroke with men? Truth is that cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death for American women. Most women I know (including myself for a long time) believe cancer to be the bigger threat. I still remember my brother’s like it was yesterday (even though it was 12 years ago). I am now the age he was when he had his first. That scares me to death if we are being honest. And I don’t want to make cancer sound like it isn’t a threat (I lost my parents to cancer) but it is much lower on the scale compared to cardio diseases. In fact, it is about half as many.
What you can’t control
- Age – As we grow older (women especially after menopause) the risk goes up.
- Gender – Men do have a greater risk of heart attack than women and for men, they usually occur at a younger age. Stroke, on the other hand, occurs about 40,000 more times per year to women over men. And 60% of deaths from stroke are women.
- Heredity – Both men and women are more likely to develop problems if a close blood relative had issues.
What you can control
- Tobacco – If you are a smoker, stop now. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Ever! Smoking is one of the highest factors in coronary artery disease. Plus, think about your poor lungs.
- High Cholesterol – High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. The number to watch here is your LDL (just think L for lousy). Having a high LDL is especially risky after age 45.
- Low HDL – Not all cholesterol is bad. You need to have higher numbers here to lower your risk (think H for happy).
- High Blood Pressure – This is a major risk factor for both men and women but women are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure (go figure, with all we have to do each day). This is also the highest contributor to stroke risk.
- Lack of Physical Activity – We talked a bit about this on day 2 but this is about more than a slimmer waistline (or not falling down at the airport). This is so important because it will help keep the fatty plaque moving and burning so it doesn’t settle into your arteries. And yes it is true that if you are overweight, your heart has to work much harder to get the blood to all those “extra” places.
Final Thoughts (checklist really)
- Don’t smoke
- Eat less fatty foods
- Move more
- Don’t drink too much
- Look into your family history (if it is a factor for you, make a plan)
- Talk to your doctor
- Watch your levels (LDL, HDL, blood pressure, and triglycerides)
- Cut down on sugary foods (to help with diabetes risk)
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
- Remember to smile (it isn’t that bad)