We love looking ahead to things— better weather, vacations, birthdays, visits with friends. But sometimes, it’s just as important to look back. We’re not talking about spending our time after retirement reflecting on the long arc of our lives, though that’s probably not a bad thing to indulge in occasionally.
At the moment, though, we’re referring to something much more specific.
We’re talking about looking back to American Heart Month in February—a month officially designated by congress as a time to promote a healthy cardiovascular lifestyle.
I’m sure you noticed. Almost everywhere you turned, there were references to taking care of our hearts. There were TV ads and billboards and countless interviews on radio and in newspapers and magazines. You probably got direct mail pieces from the American Heart Association. Even scientific journals were peppered with stories about heart-related research.
We don’t mean to throw water on a good party, but “heart healthy” is something we should all pay attention to not just during February. We should do it every day of every month all year long.
The Impact of Heart Health
A 2014 update of a study published by the American Heart Association confirmed that cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, is the number one killer of American adults. It is also one of the leading causes of disability among Americans, costing the nation more than $300 billion a year, including the costs of health care services, medications and lost productivity.
That’s $300 BILLION – with a “B.”
So what can we do about it? Well, as it turns out, a great deal. Yes, there are genetic connections that we may have limited control over, but cardiovascular disease is also one of those disease families which have many risk factors that we actually have some control over.
On its web site, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list several factors. None of them will surprise you. You’ve been hearing them for decades. But they bear repeating:
- Lack of physical activity
- Tobacco use
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
You probably could have written the list yourself. But the thing to keep in mind is that each of us has some control over every one of those factors. Even people with diabetes, if they are committed to controlling their blood sugar, can have a marked impact on their cardiovascular health.
Knowing that this is possible is one thing. But doing something about it is far more complicated. For some of us, it can be extremely difficult to change habits that we have lived with for decades.
Better Habits Leads to Better Senior Healthcare
When we say “change,” we’re not necessarily referring to dramatic changes. It can be as simple as switching from whole to skimmed milk. It can be eating a whole grain bread instead of a heavily processed white bread. Or switching from a peanut butter with sugar to one that has no additives. The impact of seemingly modest changes like these can be huge.
Take a little time to research heart-healthy living on reputable web sites and read some even-handed books about diet and lifestyle and you’ll start to see some very distinct themes emerge.
First is that there is no need to overhaul everything in your life today. Do one thing at a time. Ease into it bit by bit.
When a friend encouraged his inactive father to begin exercising, he didn’t start off by suggesting he invest in a gym membership. Instead, he volunteered to walk with his father every day. They began very slowly. The first three days, they walked no more than 100 feet from the father’s front door. But that soon grew to 200 feet, then 500 feet and, before you knew it, they were walking three miles a day.
This experience is proof of that old adage that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
But it can also be true for almost every other aspect of making your heart’s daily life more healthy.
Definitely take that walk. Limit, or even better, eliminate smoking. Get more sleep. These things won’t make you immortal, but they can make you feel better, live longer and life much healthier.