February is so delightfully filled with chocolate, pink roses, snuggles, and romantic candlelit dinners with wine. Or, if you are single, even more chocolate, pink vibrators, and romantic candlelit baths with plenty of wine. This dark and sunless month excuses our excuses to drown our woes and depression, due mostly to sunshine depravation, in sweets and booze. The medical community has taken a different approach to this heart shaped month to focus in on the organ that bears it’s symbolic namesake. American Heart Health Awareness Month.
Lately I have been more excited for Heart Health than for Valentine’s day. I have never really been into diamonds, greeting cards seem like an environmental waste, and I have always been more into salty then sweets. Not to mention, if a man shows up at my door with red roses he might as well turn around and go home. That’s just me. However if he starts talking about good fats and bad fats, blood sugar levels, and enzyme catalysts… he can cover me in cut roses and “Go To Jared” all he wants.
OK back on track. Heart Health. It is so insane that our number one killer in this country is Heart Disease. We hear it all the time, and all of us know a least a handful of people suffering from heart related diseases. It is not an older person’s issue, it is a national epidemic affecting all ages, sexes, and races. It is also one of the most preventable diseases out there. It can be completely stopped in it’s tracks and repaired through LIFESTYLE and DIET. Heart Disease is truly a LIFESTYLE DISEASE.
I am of course focusing here on Coronary Heart Disease and it’s related health problems. This is when arteries located around the heart harden while the walls build up thick with plaque narrowing the passageways through which your blood travels. This plaque build up, called “Atherosclerosis” (Say it out loud it’s silly and fun!), happens throughout your vascular system. When it occurs in your smaller vessels this is called Coronary Microvascular Disease. The most obvious physical symptoms that we experience are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels for Coronary Heart Disease, and angina, fatigue, and shortness of breath for Coronary Microvascular Disease. What is Angina? It is when you feel pain and tightness in the chest, feels like indigestion, and is a dead ringer that you already have hard arteries.
So why is this so bad? I think Bill Nye explains it best. Start at about minute 4:30 on Part 2 of his episode about Circulation. ( http://youtu.be/RiYOuI7iyp8 ) that’s where it gets really good. Well, really the whole episode is amazing.
Basically if you live a lifestyle of eating poorly and being sedentary, your vascular system will develop Atherosclerosis, and give you chest pain or Angina, chronic high blood pressure or Hypertension, and reduce blood supply to important places or Ischaemia. Any combination or even just one of these issues results in a heart attack. Congestive Heart Failure, by definition, is a loss of pumping capacity. This permanent damage to your heart, or Congestive Heart Failure, is from conditions that force your heart to work too hard and it “blows out” in one of two ways. Either the blood flow decreases too drastically and the oxygen-starved muscle simply dies, or it tries to pump harder and harder. Struggling to maintain blood flow throughout the body and the clogged arteries, the muscle then just rips open like a mac truck tire on the highway.
This may sound dramatic, like I am describing it this way for effect. Well, you’re right I am. It is even more horrible than I can adequately describe. Especially because it is truly so easy to prevent.
Your heart is a muscle, and like any muscle in your body, it grows stronger with exercise. So pump it up! Here is a list of easy, fun ways to get that pumper pumping for 30 minutes a day. That is ONE episode of your favorite TV Show! Click here for a 30 minute-a-day 30 day challenge. Click! (Coming Soon…)
Now, our bodies need to be treated as a living cooperative of systems working in harmony to form a cognizant being. REGULAR EXERCISE, CLEAN FOODS, and PEACEFUL LIVING all need to be addressed. I often see people hardcore about one, but totally missing the others, and they are at a loss as to why they are still unhealthy. The triathlon winning millionaire with a personal chef eating a perfect diet, who spends his days at the stock market and never has a lease for his stress, and is always living hard on the edge, is still at risk for a heart attack. Yes he is at a much lower risk then his over weight, steakhouse regular, cigar smoking partner. But he is still at risk. Stress management is a tough one to tackle, and needs to be more of a personal development kind of process. Working out, as well as developing healthy eating habits, can do wonders for stress management, as well as a regular good nights sleep. After that it is really up to personal taste and style for you to decide if meditation in a sauna, or paying a lady in patent leather to spank you will do the trick.
As for diet, here is a fabulous little post with neat and tidy do’s and don’ts with a yummy recipe to get you started. (Coming Soon…)
Should You Worry?
1. Frequent Chest Pains – Usually with exercise, before, or after meals. You should schedule an appointment to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked ASAP. High Bad or LDL Cholesterol and Low Good or HDL, is a dangerous combo.
2. A Smoker – I don’t care if it is tobacco, marijuana, or dried fruit in a hookah. Inhaling smoke decreases oxygen flowing into your tissues.
3. Sedentary – If you don’t know the date of the last time you worked out, or if you do and it was not last week, or even last month, you are at risk. This does not mean that you are fat, you could be skinny, you could be a regular middle class American with a busy schedule. But as you sit there your heart muscle is growing weak and may blow during a sudden life event that requires action. Such as running to your child on the play ground cause they just fell off the monkey bars and broke their arm. You need to run to them, and carry them to the car, and all the while your heart is seeing such an increase in action it… just.. pops.
4. Over Weight – I say over weight and not obese, because the body fat percentage to be considered obese is a lot lower then you may think. Our perception of the obese is actually morbidly obese. Being chubby and beautiful is NOT OK! Being curvy is beautiful, even being thick is. But chubby is unhealthy. A fat percentage of 32+ for women and 25+ for men is considered Obese. What they are now calling “Average Range” to be politically correct, 25-31% for women and 18-24% IS Over Weight, and you are at risk.
5. Easily Out of Breath – If your lungs are weak and unable to keep you easily breathing during normal daily tasks, then your heart is definitely out of shape. Or if you do work out but find yourself unable to catch your breath and have difficulty controlling your breathing, don’t give up keep working out but you need to change how you eat.
6. Often Dizzy Spells – If you get light headed when standing up too quickly, or while bending over to pick something up off the floor the oxygen is not flowing to your brain like it should. There is a decrease of blood flow and lack of oxygen getting to your brain when you perform those actions causing the dizzy feeling. This means your arteries are most likely hardened and unable to react fast enough to regulate pressure.
7. All In The Family – There may be some genetic factors that increase the likely hood that your body more easily produces atherosclerosis, or holds onto bad cholesterol. However most often Heart Disease runs in families because we generally live the same lifestyle as our parents, and their parents, and their siblings, and our siblings. If your family contains 2 or more individuals with heart disease or have had heart attacks, please address your lifestyle, and stop the cycle before it continues onto you, your children, or grandchildren.
8. Bar Fly – Do you have more then 1-2 alcoholic beverages a day? That is more than one bottle of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1 oz. of liquor a night? OR do you occasionally go out and get completely blasted? (but it’s ok cause it’s only like a couple times a year, right) Wrong, heavy amounts of alcohol over time or in one big burst to an already weak heart can cause damage to the actual muscle of the heart, thickening it, and making it stiff. A stiff muscle is harder to pump.
9. Diabetes and Insulin Resistant – These individuals need to be really on top of their diets and sugar levels in their blood. This disease can be very damaging to your vascular system leaving it more susceptible to plaque build up or weak spots through out.
10. Birth Control Pills – This is such a hard pill to swallow. Oral contraceptives are such a huge part of women’s liberation and amazing contribution to men getting laid more often by sexually empowered women. However the longer you are on the pill the more things you become a risk for. If you have been on for more then 5 years, your risk for heart attacks and strokes due to blood clots increase. If you can also check off any of the above risks, the pill increases the likelihood of a major issue due to blood clot exponentially. So a college aged girl who was put on the pill when she got her period in seventh grade, is away at school experimenting with alcohol, and spends a lot of nights at frat houses on a smoke filled dance floor, who eats the regular All American packaged foods and cafeteria diet…. She is a huge risk for Heart Attack.
Thanks for reading! Time to go vigorously walk my dog for 30 minutes!