By Erika Fehrenbach Prell
What comes to mind when you think of February? I’m guessing for most people the answer would be Valentine’s Day. But, I’m not most people…lol. When I think of February, I think of heart disease because it’s American Heart Month. (Remember, self-proclaimed science nerd here, Dream Chasers.)
This will sound weird but I love heart disease! More specifically, I love helping people understand their risks for heart disease so they can potentially course correct and avoid heart disease. Here’s the truth, heart disease is consistently the number one killer of Americans, men and women alike, every year. Here’s another one, heart disease is largely preventable! This means unlike many cancers or immune diseases, your actions combined with inherent risk factors will determine if, when, and how heart disease presents itself. Like many things, the choice, Dream Chaser, is yours.
Let me tell you a Tale of Two Hearts starring two brothers. These brothers are close in age, less than 2 years apart. They grow up in a comfortable and supportive, middle class family. They take over the family business and go to work together, living in similar small towns. Neither of them are smokers but the older brother did develop healthier eating and exercising habits from an early age. And, both of these brothers have a strong family history of heart disease - 3 of their mother’s brothers had either heart bypass surgery, stents, or both at young ages. Other than the diet and exercise, these brothers have similar risk for developing heart disease…so, how much does that diet and exercise really matter?!?
Turns out, alot…and it might have been the difference maker! You see, this Tale of Two Hearts is about two brothers that I know quite well - the younger brother is my dad and the older brother is my uncle. Here’s the next chapter...
At the age of 47, my dad recognized and was diagnosed with severe coronary artery disease; this was following the unexpected death of his best friend from a massive heart attack 3 months prior. My dad underwent life-saving, emergency 4 vessel bypass surgery; after my many years serving as a nurse practitioner in the field of cardiac surgery, this is not an exaggeration…he was very close to his own life-ending heart attack. Fortunately, my dad has done very well since that time. Now, back to my uncle, with nearly identical risk factors as my dad. He eventually developed single vessel heart disease, requiring a less invasive cardiac stent, over twenty years later.
Twenty years later…and, way less significant disease! The biggest difference between them was diet and exercise, managing two important risk factors that contribute to developing heart disease. This clearly demonstrates the power of taking preventative action! Here’s the thing about heart disease, Dream Chasers, it is something that happens over time. It does not happen overnight. It is your everyday decisions that compound over time to push you towards or away from heart disease. This might sound familiar, right? It’s a concept we like to focus on at SoulShine…lol. It holds true here just as it does for going after your goals and dreams; small wins and steps in the right direction pay off over time.
So, where do you start? Here are 3 Steps To Take Back Your Heart Health:
1. Know Your Risks - It’s hard to intervene if you don’t know your risks! Here is a link to Mayo Clinic’s Health System’s Heart Risk Calculator…this is a great place to start to identify your personal risk factors.
2. Check Up Time - When was the last time you had a routine physical? With fasting labs, specifically cholesterol? If it has been more than 1 or 2 years, or if your labs were borderline, it’s time to make that appointment. Your labs tell the whole, undeniable truth about your risk.
3. Take Action - There’s no time like the present to start working on your heart health. By focusing on making your heart healthier, you will make your overall health better. Nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction are the best areas to focus on to make the biggest shift in your heart health. Small changes in the right direction, Dream Chaser, like a 10 minute walk daily or decreasing sugary drinks like soda or energy drinks.
You’ve got this, Dream Chaser. Your future self, and heart, thank you already!
Jackie White has been writing about life and its ups and downs for many years. With a degree in Industrial Psychology and a life-long student of personal development she is intrigued by how each individual chooses to live their life. Jackie feels strongly that truly living your best life is imperative to attaining peace and fulfillment. SoulShine was borne of her desire to inspire and teach others to live their best life. This is her mission and her dream.