A Healthy Heart

Cardiovascular disease
a leading killer

Take the time to learn how
to take care of your own heart

(March 2012)
Read previous Heather Foy columns!
Heather Foy

Even a young child recognizes a pink ribbon. We understand the significance of what the delicate Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon stands for. It’s personal and it’s important.
Your mother, sister, wife, coworker, friend, grandmother or you personally have stared this pink ribbon in the face and fought a courageous battle. I begin by noting the popularity of the pink ribbon because we all admire the awareness that it brings to a devastating disease.
We see millions of these ribbons during the month of October but support the cause throughout the year. Instead of a pink ribbon, ask 100 people what a red dress symbolizes.
Many won’t recall the meaning of this red cocktail dress. This logo is designed to bring awareness to heart health for women. Cardiovascular disease will claim more lives of men and women this year than all forms of cancer combined.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not undermining the importance the Pink Ribbon campaign and the countless dollars that have been raised to find a cure and provide awareness and support for such a worthwhile cause. I simply want to take a moment to put heart disease into very simple, childlike terms.
I have been known to teach a young child that your heart is an organ, a pump, and also a muscle. A preschooler recognizes a square, circle and a heart shape. She can tell you that the heart shape is typically red in color and her heart is filled with love and has something to do with blood.
A kindergartner can learn that his heart is not shaped like a Valentine heart, but rather is compared to the shape and even size of his small fist.
An elementary student might learn basic anatomy and come to know the four chambers of the heart or recognize terms such as valve, pump, blood flow and circulatory system.
Your powerful pump is quite miraculous. A child has the ability to understand the need for your heart to be a powerful pump and muscle. A young athlete understands that basic bicep curls with resistance like a dumbbell or barbell can make your bicep muscle stronger and more powerful. The same concept applies to making your heart muscle stronger with exercise.
This amazing pump inside your chest cavity becomes more efficient with exercise that is aerobic in nature.
We desire to drive vehicles that are efficient. Having an efficient and strong heart should also be a high priority. Why do so many people put a higher priority on the maintenance of their car instead of the maintenance of their physical body?
By junior high, a teen recalls that arteries carry blood away from the heart, and veins return blood back to the heart. At this age, youths should know that fancy word – cholesterol. A simple concept for even a child to consider is that cholesterol is similar to a waxy buildup on your teeth – plaque. Children understand the need for good brushing habits, and many have already learned that the better they brush, floss and care for the teeth, typically means less buildup and less scraping from the hygienist during their routine check-up time.
The buildup of cholesterol in your arterial walls isn’t quite as simple to scrap away and “clean” twice a year. We want youth (and adults) to understand that the prevention of cholesterol is important.
Exercise increases our “Happy” or HDL cholesterol, which works to lower our risk for cardiovascular disease. Smoking can unfortunately lower, or worsen, this good cholesterol. (As if we didn’t need another health reason to put down the smokes).
Poor dietary choices, particularly choosing foods high in saturated or trans fats, and not exercising increase our “Lousy” or LDL cholesterol. We live in a society filled with super-sized, fast-food options at every stop light. Knowing our country’s rate of childhood obesity continues to climb increases the motivation to teach youth at a young age about disease prevention and basic heart-healthy choices.
Controlling cholesterol is only one of many opportunities for lowering or controlling risk for heart disease. We call these risks “modifiable.” There might be a genetic tendency or family history, but the opportunity to modify and change exists with healthy lifestyle choices.
Blood pressure, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, stress, smoking, and excess body weight (especially “apple-shaped” weight stored around the belly and region of the heart) are all on the modifiable list. Don’t consider them obstacles, but opportunities.
If viewing the risk factor list above is enough to raise your blood pressure – choose one to research and get started. Actually knowing your cholesterol profile is a good place to start. Many Americans might not want to admit it, but look closely at a common theme among the list of opportunities for change. Body Weight. Losing excess and maintaining a healthy body weight will positively impact and lower the other risks from this modifiable list. Losing weight can lower cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of developing diabetes. A healthy weight loss plan will include exercise, which typically lowers stress levels. They all go hand in hand. Learn more about heart health by visiting www.AmericanHeart.org or www.GoRedForWomen.org.
We see countless red Valentines, balloons, cards, roses and, of course, chocolate hearts during the month of February. I challenge you to let the heart shape symbolize more than “Be My Valentine.” Care for your heart by strengthening this vital organ, powerful pump and strong muscle. Make smart, simple daily choices to lower your risk for developing heart disease.

• Heather Foy is a 20-year coach and group exercise instructor in Madison, Ind., who has been in the Wellness field for nearly 20 years. Email her at hnfoy@yahoo.com.


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