The Heart of the Matter: Keeping Your Heart Healthy by Focusing on What Matters Most

What is the leading cause of death among Americans today? Heart disease.

It takes the lives of far too many people in this country, depriving families and communities of someone they love. Losing a father, a mother, a wife, a friend, or a neighbor to a heart attack or stroke is more than just heart disease—it is heartbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages us to “fight back” against heart disease and stroke, but as a public health expert and holistic healer, I’d like to offer a different approach. Why not reframe the conversation to focus on the “heart of the matter” and empower people to make heart healthy choices?

Heart Healthy Choices: Focus on the ABCDES

The ABCDES are six healthy choices you can make to address the major risk factors for heart disease and help prevent heart attacks and strokes. As with any health advice, please talk to your doctor before following these recommendations. You doctor may tailor this health advice to fit your individual needs.

  • Aspirin for people at risk: If you are at risk of having heart attack, your doctor might recommend aspirin after weighing the risks and benefits. Daily aspirin therapy may lower your risk of heart attack, but daily aspirin therapy isn’t for everyone. Only take a daily aspirin if your doctor advises you to do so.
  • Blood pressure control: Have your blood pressure checked at your doctor’s office, and see if you need lifestyle changes and medication to keep your blood pressure within a normal range. A fresh food diet and daily moderate exercise helps keep your blood pressure under control.
  • Cholesterol management: Have your cholesterol levels checked at your doctor’s office, and see if you need lifestyle changes and medication to keep your cholesterol levels within a normal range. A fresh food diet that is high in fiber and low in saturated fat, along with daily moderate exercise, helps keep your cholesterol under control.
  • Diet: Enjoy delicious meals that feature 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, along with whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. Limit or avoid foods that are high in sodium and fat, like fast food, potato chips, frozen dinners, bacon, and processed lunch meats.
  • Exercise: Get up and get active for least 30 minutes most days of the week. Develop a routine of moderate activity, such as walking and light strength training, like you would other important daily tasks. Find a friend, family member, or co-worker to exercise with to stay motivated and have fun.
  • Smoking cessation:  Practical programs and materials geared toward quitting smoking are available for FREE, by calling the Michigan Tobacco Quit Line: 1-800-784-8669. The Quit Line offers a personal health coach and a toolkit to help tobacco users gain the confidence and motivation they need to quit for good.

The Heart of the Matter: Focusing on What Matters Most

If you are like me, it can be hard to make healthy changes really last. Long-term benefits, like preventing heart disease, can seem remote when craving a burger and fries or feeling an urge to smoke. It takes time, energy, and focus to plan and prepare fresh foods for meals and commit to a daily exercise routine.

So how do I stay motivated to keep making heart healthy choices? I do it for those who are closest to my heart.

Here’s a simple exercise you can do to focus in on the “heart of the matter”: Write down the names of all those who benefit from your being in the world and from what you do in the world. Write down the names of as many family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, customers, and clients as you can. Does the length of the list surprise you?

Keep this list in a place where you can see it. Look at it as you make decisions during your day, especially if you are making new changes to your diet, quitting smoking, or sticking to a new exercise routine. What effect does this list have on the choices you make to prevent heart disease and keep your heart healthy?

Remember: for whatever you do—or do not do—the actions you take affect the lives of others. So, for the sake of all you care about, accept this call to make heart healthy choices. You can do more than you think.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from CDC website: www.cdc.gov/Features/HeartMonth

Balles, Tom. (2004) Dancing with the Ten Thousand Things: Ways to Become a Powerful Healing Presence New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Aimee Centivany, MPH, M.Ac, L.Ac, is a licensed acupuncturist and public health practitioner

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