Straight from the heart . . .

Straight from the heart . . .

Heart disease ... preventable? Really?

NOTE:   Articles contained in this blog are not intended as medical advice.  Please consult your personal physician regarding any changes to your health regimen.


Every Thursday is “education day” in Cardiac Rehab.  So, while we do our workouts, we watch informative videos on what we can do – now that we have had a cardiac episode – to prevent further occurrences and to live healthier and longer lives.  After watching several of these, I began thinking about how much better people could be if these lifestyle changes were embraced earlier in life and what that impact could be.


For instance, were you aware that 80% of heart disease is preventable?  Heredity aside, when that sinks in and you understand that there are things that we can do to avoid developing this fatal disease, we ask “how?”  These are all things you hear over and over again.  Quit smoking (or never start), maintain a healthy weight, eat a heart healthy diet, and exercise regularly.  The recommendation for exercise is 30-minutes of cardio routine, five days per week, and strength training.  You don’t have to join a gym but you do need that same kind of commitment!


As a child, I’m sure my first word must have been “why?”  People who know me well know that I am a research maven.  During my summer vacation, it wasn’t unusual to see me with encyclopedias spread out across my bedroom floor looking up answers to my “why”.  When my father told me to never start smoking, I (of course) asked “why?”   So, he took some of my grandmother’s medical books (she was a nurse) and showed me images of healthy lungs and damaged lungs from smoking.  I believe between that visual and the fact that my parents led the example by not smoking are the reasons I never even tried it. 


I believe in giving the why we should do these things and there is plenty of information out there about heart disease in women, but let’s highlight a few:


  • Heart disease kills almost twice as many women as all cancers combined, including breast cancer.
  • Heart disease claims the lives of 65,000 more women than men each year.
  • Heart disease can start to develop even in your 20s or 30s.
  • From 1989 to 1996, sudden cardiac death climbed 31 percent among women ages 15 to 34.


Read that first bullet point again.  Twice as many!  Yet, it seems to me, that we don’t see nearly the emphasis on heart disease as we do cancer.  And, again, 80% of it CAN BE PREVENTED!  What if we turn our focus and channel our efforts into prevention ... not only for adults, but we start with our children ... wouldn’t that address a lot of our problems with heart disease, diabetes and obesity?


One of the Bible verses we learn early on is from Proverbs 22:6.  “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”


While most teach that this applies to developing the child’s character and to their religious training, what if we extend this to their health?  Growing up with a parent battling hypertension and heart disease from an early age, we all followed his diet.  As a teen and adult, it hasn’t been difficult for me to make adjustments since most of my diet already follows that path.  I’m thankful for my “training as a child” due to Dad’s health issues because my children were raised the same way and are teaching their children to eat healthy and to stay active. 


As I’ve mentioned before, if I had to change anything it would be reducing the packaged foods I used to prepare meals while the children were growing up.  With the cost and convenience for a working mom, I totally understand.  By adding fresh fruits and vegetables, minimizing the wrong snacks and fast food, and reading those labels, you can teach your child how to be healthy for life.


I used to joke that while “men may be the head of the house, women are the neck.”  There’s truth to that, ladies.  As wives and mothers, we still set the example in our homes.  Teaching our children isn’t just words; that’s easy.  To train them on how to live healthier, WE have to live healthier. 


Take baby steps and make them part of the process.  For us, we understood (as children) what diet requirements Dad had to follow because Mom talked to us about them.  To this day, I don’t require a lot of salt on my food and as far as sweets go, I may enjoy one on a special occasion or holiday but I have no issue with feeling like I need a dessert after every meal.   Portion size is very important.  We actually use smaller plates and tend to eat less. As Americans, I believe the portion size is often our downfall.  We usually equate volume with value … we want “our money’s worth.”  When my husband and I eat out, we often split meals and just add a side salad, which saves calories and money!


Even though I grew up pretty much following a cardiac diet and made changes more than a decade ago to our diets again, once I had the heart attack I wanted to make sure I did everything to prevent further episodes.   My heart disease is predominantly hereditary and due to lack of more cardiac exercise, but I want to be here to see my grandchildren graduate college and start their families.  So, in addition to meeting with a nutritionist through cardiac rehab, I’ve done a lot of reading. 


One of the websites I have found particularly helpful is  Specific information about heart healthy eating can be found on this page If we women start the movement, train our children and (hopefully) turn the necks of husbands who may need to make lifestyle changes, we have just created a health care plan that actually results in a healthier life!

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