July 12: FitMommas “Love Your Heart” Day
The American Heart Association puts a lot of effort each and every year into Heart Disease Awareness, and for good reason. Cancer gets a lot of press, as it certainly deserves, but I think that most Americans forget that it is Heart Disease that is the number one killer in America, and most of the developed world. Since 1900, cardiovascular disease has been the number one cause of death in America every year except 1918, and it claims more lives each year than the next five causes of death combined.
Please think about what I just wrote. Heart Disease – more than all cancer, more than chronic lower respiratory disease, more than accidents, more than diabetes, more than influenza/pneumonia – kills more people than all of the above combined. (American Heart Association, 2005.)
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a general term for more than 20 different diseases of the heart and cardiovascular system. The three most common are heart attack, stroke, and hypertension. Much of the heart disease that we see is preventable. Family history does indeed play a big role in the likelihood of developing some form of heart disease, but lifestyle factors are frequently what determine whether someone will suffer from some form of CVD.
What are we talking about? Excessive salt, bad fat and alcohol in the diet, cigarette smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and stress. All of these things affect cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and possible hardening of the arteries, which in turns leads to CVD.
I am going to guess that you are not necessarily shocked by anything that I have written. Most of us know that we need a better diet, that we need to move our bodies more, than we probably should not drink so much, and that we need to find relaxation in our hectic lives. My hope today is to remind you that all of these factors can indeed be life and death. Family history does not mean you will get heart disease, and no family history does not mean you will not. However, what you choose to do each and every day can determine your probability of developing CVD.
The American Heart Association has a great website, and many campaigns throughout the year to help educate the public on Heart Disease. They have their own Heart Disease Awareness month in February, and the Go Red for Women campaign has become quite popular in the past few years.
So why am I, Amy of FitMommas, talking about this to you today? Because today should have been my dad’s 60th birthday. My dad (not biological) had a family history of heart disease, and all of the men in his life died before their 60th birthday. My dad had a heart attack and was diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy in 1999 or 2000 (none of us can remember for sure!). While he did make some lifestyle changes, he chose “moderation.” Moderation is a term that bothers me because moderation means different things to different people, and my dad’s definition of moderation is slightly different than mine! He was on an arsenal of prescription heart medicines, and still pretty much ate and drank whatever he wanted. On a positive note, he did give up smoking once and for all.
After this incident, Dad told my Grandma, “I don’t want to live eating bread and water.” He had decided that he was not going to live to see 60 anyway, so he might as well live how he wanted. And he did get 12 or so more years out of life. But I hope that my dad’s story serves as lesson for others. Being healthy does not mean living a life on bread and water. When I made some of my diet changes last year, before he died, my dad learned to make some dishes for when I came over that were delicious and extremely healthy. Unfortunately, he himself did not make the change that he needed, and he died of a sudden massive heart attack on May 17, two months before his 59th birthday.
No one wants or needs to live forever. But I believe our lives should be full of love, laughter, amazing food, and feeling good in our bodies and mind while we are here. All of this is possible. It is not a guarantee of a long life, but we all significantly increase our odds of a long and healthy life when we consciously choose to live better. While my dad did not wish to live forever, it still hurts to think of all of the things he will not see because he died so young.
I dedicate today, July 12, FitMommas “Love Your Heart” Day to my dad. It truly breaks my heart that he was right – he did not make it to 60. Please honor my dad, and the millions of other loved ones who have left too early because of CVD, by talking to your doctor about your risk of heart disease. Family history does not have to be a death sentence. Instead, educate yourself on the risk factors, and begin to make conscious choices every day to prevent as best you can your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
Love Your Heart! And a long, healthy vibrant life to all!