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My Sweet Heart; Ugly Anatomy but Special in Purpose!

Practically everything we do in life affects the way our bodies react and perform. Of course, we can't live our lives worrying about this every minute so we shouldn't. However, a little more critical thinking about the ramifications of mistreating our bodies is possible without consuming our thoughts.

Which brings me to the subject of this post, a reminder about some simple things to remember about your heart. It is heart health month after all! Look at my logo - it says it all!

The most important things you can do to say thank you to your heart are:

  1. Maintain a regular cardio and strength exercise program.

  2. Eat a healthy diet.

  3. Don't smoke and drink only occasionally.

  4. Find healthy means for dealing with stress, for example, through mindfulness or meditation, participating in a hobby, talking to people who will support you, or seeing a professional trained to deal with your stressors, or simply going for a walk in nature.

  5. Practice relaxation techniques - use music or podcasts to help.

We often don't connect things we can't see to those we can. If you feel a persistent pain in your body, it is a signal that something is wrong. We certainly are aware when we hurt a muscle or joint because we feel pain in that area. Good examples are common injuries in our knees, shoulders and back. These automatically stop us from continuing activities that cause this pain to flare up. It tells us 'back off' - you are damaging me! Usually we have no choice but to slow down and assess.

Whatever you do, don't ignore pain and tell yourself it will go away. I have done that and the outcome wasn't good. As you probably know women and men may experience different symptoms when having a heart attack. Be aware of both. You have a much better chance of survival and/or minimizing damage if you get medical intervention quickly.

However, if you deny your symptoms, thinking they will go away, it may lead to loss of heart function, disability, or even death. In contrast, It is unlikely you will die from a knee injury.

Exercise helps in so many ways as a preventative measure. Here are a few of these:

It lowers your blood pressure.

It helps maintain weight loss and a healthy weight.

It improves the heart's ability to get oxygen from your blood, decreasing the strain of the work it needs to do.

It reduces stress and the amount of stress hormones that are released, such as cortisol, which put an unnecessary burden on your heart.

Think of what you like to do or if that seems impossible for exercise, what do you hate least?? In other words, does it help to be motivated by others in which case taking classes can help. Do you like to walk, dance, box, swim? If you like to play tennis and can play at least three times a week or golf while you walk the fairways (no cheating with carts:)), these can be good choices and enjoyable. Number one for me is to blast music of the beat I am exercising to. If you don't want to listen to music, how about a podcast you like?

People have told me " I hate to sweat" and " It's uncomfortable being out of breath". I acknowledge it is uncomfortable to feel these for a long period of time. But it feels great when you stop and you can say to yourself, "self- I did it". The whole idea is to raise your heart rate beyond your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR or resting heart rate). BMR is the amount of energy per unit of time that a person needs to keep the body functioning at rest. Over time as you exNot as much work is needed to pump blood and the heart becomes stronger over a period of time

You may be familiar with the terms aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercise means "without oxygen". Therefore, In practical terms, this means that anaerobic exercise is more intense, but shorter in duration than aerobic exercise. No one can maintain an anaerobic state for very long. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) strives to take you to that zone briefly and has been shown to increase fitness levels. Even one cycle of HIIT for 4 minutes can improve your cardiovascular fitness.

When I started exercising I was on the older side - late 20s. I never participated in sports or team activities. So, when I did start, it was a slow upward journey. I did have some motivation however. Due to my eating disorder, I started exercising to lose weight while continuing to eat my binge-oriented diet. I am certainly not advocating this philosophy. I don't wish disordered eating on anyone.

This should not be the first motivating factor for exercise but it did work for me. Now, I don't think about my weight (I even refuse to get weighed in the Dr.'s office) and I have no scales in my home. Exercise for me is an addiction. Nothing works like exercise to:

calm me down

release the emotions of a bad day

improve my mood

make everything seem ok with the world, even for a short time!

help me STOP THINKING, especially snowball- rolling- down- a- hill- thinking.

When I don't exercise for more than one day, I feel sluggish and depression creeps in. So, before trying drugs of any sort, try attacking your diet and exercise routines. Your heart and your brain will thank you! Although eating mindfully and exercising seem difficult, they are easy compared to managing disease. Don't wait until it is too late to take action. We have certainly learned this from the COVID pandemic.

It is also important to know your risk factors and to have appropriate screening tests. Does heart disease run in your family? How about obesity? Have you had your blood pressure and metabolic indicators checked (e.g., cholesterol, HDL, LDL, HDL/LDL)? If you are over 40 have you had a baseline cardiac checkup? By having a baseline EKG, experts can tell if you have a cardiac event later by comparing it to your baseline. Are you following any advice provided by your Dr.? **

Please do not think if you are young and/or thin, you can't have heart disease. Many diseases, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes are happening in younger people due to the western diet and lifestyle.

My paternal grandmother was obese and exercise was not very common during her youth. She died suddently from cardiac arrest in her 40s. I sadly never met her. My father and his 3 brothers all had, and died of, heart disease. My grandmother should have been a lesson in what not to do, but of course ' it won't happen to me' is easier and in all fairness, there was not as much awareness of what caused heart disease.

I was in college when my father started having heart issues, namely angina, in his 40s. He had trouble even taking leisurely walks and had to keep nitroglycerine handy. This must be a scary way to live. Over the years he had; a quadruple bypass, 2 heart attacks, and atrial fibrillation. His heart finally gave out when he was 83. He did not take care of himself. He started to exercise irregularly after his heart attacks and he sabatoged his food. He intentionally ignored food labels. He was a brilliant man- but he wanted to ignore what he was doing.

I hear people say : 'it's my life, I can do what I want and if I die 5 years earlier that's my choice'. Freedom of choice is very important when it doesn't hurt anyone else but I would give anything to have 5 more years (or possibly more) with my dad. Keep in mind that most likely you are hurting others by making this type of choice.

I also have a reminder on the walls of my house - I had twins and one of the twins was born with Pulmonary Atresia. The left ventricle of his heart was undeveloped. When I think about the number and severity of surgeries he had and pain he must have suffered in his short life, I still feel incredibly sad. He had not one day of pain-free life and then he died at 15 months from pnemonia. He could never get enough oxygen. This event might of have been out of my control but the bottom line is that we cannot live without a healthy heart and lungs!!!

Recently a friend of mine in his 40s had a heart attack. He lived a stress-filled life. He had a shunt inserted. Luckily he got the message. He has completely revamped his diet and is more consistent with his exercise regime. He feels much better and he knows he is doing the right things. Unfortunately some damage was done that could have been avoided but better late than never. Don't ever give up!

Bottom Line Anatomy - Only the basics.

The heart is the muscle that pumps blood to all of your body. It becomes more efficient with exercise. When you exercise, your muscles help to circulate blood taking some of the strain and effort off the heart. Not as much work is needed to pump blood and the heart becomes stronger over a period of time.

The heart is arguably the most important muscle in our bodies. A heart attack, also called an MI or Myocardial Infarction, occurs when the blood flow is cut off from the heart. A stroke occurs when adequate blood flow is cut off from the brain. If you are lucky you will be warned with pain symptoms that allow you to get help quickly. However there is no guarantee, and prevention rather than treatment, is the name of the game. Even if you survive one of these events, there will be some level of damage done and you may need to be on medication indefinitely. All medications have risks. So, why risk it? Of course there is not a guarantee of anything in life including having an ischemic event when you are doing all of the right things. The way I view it, we have so little control over most of what happens day to day that I want to control things that I can, like what I eat and how active I am.

We used to think that high cholesterol caused heart disease but now we know it is more complicated than that. Decreasing the risk factors; namely high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, cholesterol and others are our 'nature-provided' preventions. Following the latest diet or exercise fad is not the long term answer. Basic solid, uncomplicated strategies are more likely to be maintainable for life. They are habits and can be learned.

Lastly I will leave you with the following analogy. Your heart and brain are to your body as the engine is to your car. I would bet that many people take better care of their cars than their heart and brain. They are worried about increasing car insurance rates or getting stuck somewhere. People think their car is an extension of themselves and its outward appearance is a reflection of upward mobility. What about rising health insurance premiums, getting stuck in the hospital, not being able to breathe effectively. Only you can fix these! The best medicine is staying OUT of the medical system. Internalize that!

** Keep in mind what I have written about before. Doctors are not trained to use exercise and diet as preventative and/or treatment tools. So, if you are at risk for heart disease, it is even more important to learn about diet and exercise !!! As a preventative measure, it is important to explore these before you have symptoms of heart disease.

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