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Healthy Heart; Hearty Life

February 24, 2021 by Coach Cynthia Luna

Celebrating Every Pump

We are nearing the end of American Heart Month. And given that February is also the month in which we celebrate Valentine’s Day, I wanted to show some love to the miraculous organ that pumps the blood that carries the oxygen and nutrients our bodies need to survive – i.e., the heart.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), over 800,000 Americans die of heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular diseases every year—that’s one-third of all US deaths. And nearly half (i.e., 47%) of all Americans have at least 1 of 3 key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.

Just think about it… statistically speaking, the odds are, in a family of four, at least 2 members are or will become at risk for heart disease. And, when all is said and done, at least one of those 2 has a fairly strong chance of ultimately dying from it.

Heart disease is an equal opportunity killer of both men and women; in fact it is the number one killer in the USA, regardless of gender. And our risk only increases as we age. Sobering, don’t you think?

As a Lifestyle Medicine Certified Health Coach, I work to bring greater awareness to the connection between lifestyle and chronic disease. But I know from personal experience and observation that statistics (however shocking) are easily set aside. After all, it’s so easy to look at set of numbers and percentages on a page and see them as having nothing to do with us. Am I right?

So instead of talking about things like disease burden and morbidity, I want to offer some simple things you can easily start doing right now to show your heart a little love.

4 Small Things (& 3 Big Ones) You Can Do Right Now to Show Your Heart a Little Love

4 Small Things:

  1. Reduce added salt/sugar: Here are two simple ways to start: 1) If you are used to adding table salt to your meals; try shaking one less time than you normally would. 2) If added sugar is your poison, try one less teaspoon in your afternoon tea or morning coffee.
  2. Reduce alcohol intake: Say “No” to that second glass of wine if you are female. If you’re male, say “No” to that third glass. – Sorry ladies, we get the short end of the stick on that one.
  3. Increase fiber and reduce animal protein intake: Cover half (if not more) of your dinner plate with vegetables and fruits. And remember that a serving of animal protein is about the size of a deck of cards, or the palm of your hand.
  4. Avoid foods high in Saturated fats or Trans fats by paying greater attention to food labels. This should be a lot easier now with the new nutrition facts labels coming to a supermarket near you. 

3 Big Things:

  1. Get wise about weight management. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health, but let’s face it, as a population, Americans are not heralded for our svelte, beach-like bodies. And, based on my experiences on cruises, I think the majority of us tend to skew in the opposite direction. So, it is easy to see how we can get a distorted view of what healthy weight looks like. By now you might be asking, “What’s a poor guy or gal to do?” Well, a good place to start is to know your weight status. Assess where you are based on the relevant biometrics; Body Mass Index (BMI) and Waist Circumference in this case. Once you know your status, speak with your doctor to help you get on a plan to win in the battle of the bulge. And if you need assistance staying on that plan, reach out to a certified coach to work with you and hold you accountable to the promises you make to yourself. For more information on how to calculate your BMI and Waist Circumference as well as how to interpret the results, check out Assessing Your Weight on the CDC website.
  2. Get moving. It is recommended that adults get 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly. That comes out to 30 minutes a day if you exercise 5 days. And the good news is that you don’t need to do the 30 minutes all at once. You can break them up, spreading your exercise among different intervals throughout the day. However, there is one caveat - the minimal interval should be at least 10 minutes for greatest benefit if you do decide to break it up. Some simple ways to start is to walk briskly outside; with this approach, you get the added benefit of getting that much needed Vitamin D. If you are working from home and chained to your desk during the day, how about walking/jogging in place during one of your virtual meetings (if you are permitted to remain off-camera).
  3. Toss the cigarettes into the ash heap. This is a hard one, I know. But, if it helps to make the prospect of quitting more palatable think about this… With every cigarette you consume, you are also consuming 7000 chemical compounds, many of which seem more fitting for a bomb crafted on a MacGyver episode than for human consumption. Just something to think about. For those of you who haven’t started smoking, consider yourself as having dodged a bullet. And, for goodness sake, don’t pick up the habit now. For those of you struggling to kick the habit, the American Heart Association lists several free resources (including hotline numbers in multiple languages) on its Help! I Want to Quit Smoking! website.

If you commit to showing your heart a little more extra love each day than you did the day before, you would be well on your way to reducing your risk. And, as with all relationships, the more you give, the more you’ll get back. When your heart feels the love, you will be rewarded with a hearty life.

I am sending my love to all the beautiful hearts out there. Keep pumping!