I’ve always heard him say, “heart disease runs in my family” and so my dad, ran … literally. He ran far and he ran frequently, to put distance between himself and his genetic tendencies. Well, despite his best efforts (a healthy diet and regular checkups included) his family history caught up to him. I received a phone call one Sunday in September and heard my mom’s voice say “I think your dad is having a heart attack.” It turns out, she was right … and it was a big one.
The days and weeks that followed, thankfully, were filled with healing. But, until I saw my dad lying in a hospital bed, I hadn’t given much thought to our shared gene pool. It’s embarrassing to admit, nursing degree and all, that I never stopped to think about the risk that his family history of heart disease history has on me! It was the general consensus of his entire care team, that his lifestyle for the last 30 years, was the deciding factor of his recovery. His heart attack was major, but because of his commitment to exercise and eating right, he saved his own life. (So did my mom when she followed her gut, called the ambulance and gave him an aspirin right when his symptoms started.*)
It hit me like a ton of bricks: my dad started making these decisions when he was MY AGE. I don’t know about you, but my brain operates in a lot of different directions, on any given day, but it never went THERE … until it did. (If I want to really get crazy, my mom has osteoporosis … so there’s a good chance I’m sitting on potentially sluggish arteries and brittle bones. Yikes.)
I decided to take myself back to school (figuratively speaking) and wrap my head around what I can & should be doing to protect my heart. (This is straight from the American Heart Association Website.)
- Eat Right: Add color, meaning fruits & veggies to every meal and snack. The best part? It doesn’t matter how they come… “All forms (fresh, frozen, canned or dried) and all colors count.” – Sure I know this. But, I’ll be the first to admit that our supper plates are very monochromatic over here, usually out of sheer convenience.
- Exercise: But how often? For how long? And WHEN? The AHA Website says 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity exercise a week. That’s 30 minutes a day for 5 days … or 20 minutes a day if you include the weekend! And moderate intensity which includes “brisk walking, dancing, gardening, biking less than 10mph.” — Even my dear ole Dad, with years of running behind him has learned a lesson… Walking is actually great for your heart, maybe even it might be the best thing for it.*
- Sleep: Yep, there’s a whole section on the AHA Website devoted to sleep and how important 7-9 hours/night is for your overall health. There’s even an article titled ‘Take a Nap: The Benefits of Napping and How to Make it Work for You.’ — I’m just going to leave that right there.
- Pets: I found a precious, puppy filled video featuring Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum of the AHA where she discussing the significant impact that pet ownership can have on a humans health. (To be fair, they’re talking about adopting dogs, but I bet the rules can apply elsewhere.) For everything from increasing activity to decreasing depression, giving to an animal, who gives back to you in return just benefits everyone. — I have one, he’s not adopted but MAN does he keep us active and loves us all so well. I also have a furry feline and could make a good argument about what they contribute too.
With it broken it down into bite sized pieces, I feel okay about the changes I need to make, and, more importantly, my ability to stick with them. I also went and got myself a ‘grown-up doctor’ (aka Internist) because, well… it was time. Next on my list is to get myself some Calcium + Vitamin D supplements to protect these bones.*
*So all of this stuff is what I’ve been taught/told over the years, some officially, some off-the-cuff … check with your own doctor about all of this stuff before making any major life changes. Definitely don’t take my word for it, I’m going double check with mine.