Valentine’s Day. Most years, I am sort of a “it’s made up to boost the card, flower and chocolate industries”-girl. While I love any excuse to love on my husband and kids, it’s never more than a card, small momento or box of chocolate, if I happen to trip over it in the grocery store.
This year however, I am buying into it, whole hog.
I’m not buying flowers or candy, though. This year, I’m all hearts. Not the paper or chocolate kind. This year, I am all about the hearts that pump life sustaining oxygen and nutrients around our bodies. Really, what I am buying into is National Heart Health Month – starting with buying myself a doctor visit.
Hitting my (very) late forties has changed the way I think about health. I believe it is my duty to myself and my village to care for myself – which means caring for my heart. Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.? That’s right: 647,000 Americans die from heart disease yearly.
The most shocking thing about this: While genetics play a role in our heart health, study after study confirms that lifestyle far outweighs heredity when it comes to heart disease. One study tracked 2,336 people for 20 years. Participants who followed five key healthy lifestyle behaviors were 53% more likely to score a low risk for heart disease based on the two most associated risk indicators (blood pressure and blood glucose) than those who practiced one or none – regardless of environment, genetic profile, family history, gender or ethnicity.
Which is pretty darn good news. It means that the power to give our hearts what they need is largely in our hands.
So what are these magic behaviors?
- Eating a healthy diet – a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, non-processed meats, fish, nuts and non trans-fat oils.
- Engaging in physical activity – about 150 minutes of moderate/vigorous movement that includes resistance training each week.
- No or low alcohol consumption – less than one drink a day for women, 2 for men on average.
- Not smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight – while Body Mass Index is the traditional measure, my favorite definition is by Dietitian Rachel Fine: “A healthy body weight is one that can be maintained without constant dieting or without restricted food intake. A healthy body weight is a weight that can be accepted by YOU.” (A topic for a column all by itself!)
How many of those things are within our control? Yep. You got it. Every single one. Which brings us back to Valentine’s Day and Healthy Heart Month. What is the very best
Valentine’s Day Heart Health Month gift I can get for the people I love? A healthy me.
So, my appointment with my doctor is set and my pact with myself to stick to one or fewer glasses of wine a day is made – made and said (written) out loud here so you all can hold me accountable. Thank you! Now, it’s YOUR turn. What will you give the people you love for Heart Health Month?
If picking something from our list of five heart healthy behaviors is too much to start with, pick something small:
- Prep and send fruit and veggies for your kiddos Valentine’s celebrations or your wife’s lunch.
- Have a morning dance party on Valentine’s Day morning and then make it a habit.
- Plan a quick workout with someone you love. Even 10 minutes is plenty of time to get your hearts into it!
- Carve out time to take a friend on a walk, hike, bike, ski, hang glide. Getting out into nature is great for our hearts.
- Feed them well! Make a heart healthy meal plan for a week. Keep it simple. Choose whole proteins, veggies and whole grains. Roast and season them individually in large batches and then combine them with more raw veggies and spices in different ways all week.
- Write notes telling people you love you are glad they are on this planet.
- Make yourself a doctor’s appointment and get to know your numbers. C-reactive protein, cholesterol/lipid panel and treadmill stress tests can all give you good indicators of your risk. Your doctor can help you choose tests that are right for you.
Remember, your gifts don’t have to cost a thing. The most meaningful thing you can give people you love is a healthy you. So take another look at the list of five behaviors that support heart health and use them to start building a wellness practice that supports your heart health all year long. And if you need help, please don’t hesitate to let me or your own health professional know. That is what we are here for.
Wishing you a very happy Heart Health Month!
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.