Take Action: Making Heart Health

February is a month focused on the heart. From your loves to your life, the heart is central to your daily experience. It is during this month that attention is also focused on heart health. Awareness itself is important, however, prevention must be walked out everyday.

The facts are clear; according to the CDC,”In 2008, over 616,000 people died of heart disease. Heart disease caused almost 25% of deaths-almost one in every four-in the United States. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.”

The serious nature of heart disease is staggering; however, too often people do not realize they have a problem until they experience one of the grave consequences of heart disease, such as a heart attack or stroke. That makes this issue very problematic. It is not that people do not know what they “should” do to be healthy, things like, exercise more, eat better quality food, reduce salt intake, get more sleep, lose weight, don’t smoke, and reduce stress. It is that they don’t get serious about doing them until the problem gets “personal.” Unfortunately with heart disease, your first symptom could be your last. That is why it is essential to make heart health a priority in your life now, before it gets too personal.

What we know about human behavior is that people are motivated by outcomes. You must believe that the outcome is worth the effort to change, or you will not earnestly pursue it. That becomes the issue with heart disease. People do not want to think about the problem, so that deters them from connecting with the outcome. It is easier for someone to pursue healthy habits out of vanity than it is out of a deep desire to maintain ones health. It is time to do something about this.

Knowledge without action is dangerous. It leads to complacency and apathy. The word is out, and people have heard it time and again, they understand what behaviors lead to good heart health. Now it is time to connect with this message in a way that will bring about action.

This month, evaluate your personal motivators and find a way to make heart health “personal” without the crisis that usually causes this to occur. Avoid feelings of guilt over not doing what you “should be” doing, it only causes frustration. Ironically, guilt and frustration lead to stress, which means that the very knowledge of what you should be doing, combined with not doing it, is a major risk factor for heart disease.

The heart is a vital organ in the body, its proper functioning is essential to health. It is also the symbolic home of your spiritual being, as in: you will always be in my “heart.” We have all heard of heartache, heart sick and broken heart, these are all conditions of the spirit, not the actual organ. But studies now show that there is a distinct link between the two. What causes dis-ease in the spirit has a direct correlation to disease in the body.

When a person experiences stress, guilt, or anguish the disease it causes in the spirit will affect the chemicals that the body produces. These, stress hormones have a tremendous effect on body functioning. Overtime prolonged stress, combined with various other risk factors, can negatively affect your health.

This phenomenon seems to be a bigger risk factor for caregivers. It is their special nurturing quality that can lead to personal health issues if not managed properly. The need to nurture and care for others, often leads people to take less time for self-care. For some, taking time to care for their own needs causes extreme guilt, leading them to become overwhelmed and under cared for. By not wanting to burden others, some will ignore the symptoms of heart disease. This accounts for why many people do not seek treatment until after they have a heart attack.

It is time to understand the underlying reasons you are not nurturing yourself. The number one way to reduce your risk for heart disease is to be vigilant in taking time for proper self-care. Making this acceptable, will release the guilt that causes further stress, and that can promote heart disease.

When you begin to value yourself and believe you are worthy of self-care, it is then, you will begin to do heart healthy behaviors. Until then, you will continue to feel the pressure that comes with being excessively selfless, the kind of pressure that elevates your risk for cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke.

By relaxing more and focusing on self-fulfillment and work-life balance, you can begin to circulate heart healthy hormones. These activities not only keep the spirit strong, but can boost your immune function by strengthening the heart. For years the focus has been on “what to do,” now it is time to personalize “why to do it” and “how to do it.” This is an issue of the heart and spirit as much as the organ itself. By making heart health personal, and making self-care valuable, you will be empowered to make purposeful heart healthy choices. Don’t wait until a crisis to get connected to the health of your heart. Be healthy by choice, not by force.