Holistic Heart Health: Caring for the Core of Who We Are

The heart has long been a symbol for love and the core of who we are. However, statistics show that we as Americans could use a little help loving and caring for our hearts. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 deaths in the US, about 600,000 people each year. It remains the number one killer of women in the US claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined.  715,000 Americans have a heart attack every year and coronary heart disease is one of the most expensive ailments, costing the US $108.9 billion each year. Yep, those are the staggering facts. The question remains, “What will we do about it?”

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, in a recent article wrote, “In late December, the president was right when he wrote about the ‘staggering physical and economic loss’ due to cardiovascular diseases. Here's the twist: That president was Lyndon Baines Johnson. That line comes from Proclamation 3566, the document that declared February as "American Heart Month." This formal designation began in 1964, which means this February is the 50th anniversary.” Joining in the month built of awareness and action, Sound Options is sharing 10 tips that you can do to care for your heart and maintain your health as you age.

Physical Care

No. 1 Know the Risks

According to the CDC, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors in heart disease. What is amazing to think about is 49% of Americans have at least one of these three factors. Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices put people at a higher risk for diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. By making small daily choices that lower your risk factors, you can make a choice for a higher quality of life as you age. 

No. 2 Know Your Body

Culturally, we tend to only go to the doctor when there is something wrong; however, many of the risk factors for heart disease don’t have symptoms until they’ve reached severe stages. Your doctor should be your partner in prevention. When we understand the link between our choices and our bodies, we can help our physicians to give us good health care early on instead of just sick care later in life. Have your cholesterol levels checked at least every five years and consistently monitor your blood pressure. When it comes to caring for your heart, knowledge really is power.  

No. 3 Take Your Medications

Taking your medications properly is an important component to managing your chronic conditions and staying on top of your health. Make sure that you have an open dialogue with your doctor about your medications and ask what lifestyle choices you can be making to maximize their impact and reduce your risks for heart disease now and in the future.

No. 4 Manageable Movement

While an exercise routine or gym membership may make you cringe, the key to building an active lifestyle is to make daily movement manageable. You may not be able to find 30 consecutive minutes in a day to devote to exercise, but consider this: taking a brisk 10 minute walk, 3 times a day, 5 days a week will vastly reduce the many risk factors for heart disease. Our bodies function better when we walk and it is the easiest health improvement strategy over time. 

No. 5 Eat for Your Life!

Aside from exercise, diet has one of the greatest impacts on the prevention of heart disease. We go to food for enjoyment, culture, and comfort, but we must never forget the nutritional foundation of what we choose to eat. A heart-minded diet should be low in salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol and high in fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Care for the Core of Us

No. 6 Stay Close to Your Passions

There are several stereotypes of aging that are both antiquated and not helpful. One is our image of aging as atrophy, slowing down, giving up old hobbies and work. However, human beings never lose their need for purpose and joy. Throughout our lives, when we are engaged in what gives us pleasure and gives back to others our quality of life is higher and it feeds our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being.

 No. 7 Stay Close to Your Community of Support

Another unhelpful stereotype is that we become more isolated as we age. Our hearts are made for connection. It is crucial that we maintain those relationships with family, friends, and mentors that are a support system and an outlet for our stories.

No. 8 Invite Your Heart to the Elder Care Conversation

It can be very difficult for families to begin conversations with aging loved ones about end-of-life issues or wishes should a crisis occur. Most Americans have not communicated their wishes for what they would like the final 10-20 years of their life to be like. Because of our aversion to the topic of aging and death, we miss out on the opportunity to expand the conversation and invite our hearts to the table. What would elder care planning look like if we began by asking, what is your dream for this chapter of your life? What makes you feel most at home in your life? What would be the best story of old age for you? Starting to dialogue about these things early on could help open the door and provide the foundation for logistical decisions later on in life.

No. 9 Find Creative Outlets

Finding ways to express yourself can be an important component to aging. Our self-understanding changes as we age and it is important to actively engage our identity. Fortunately, there are many ways to tell your stories and reflect on your life. Your creative outlet might be painting or writing, or it might be boat making, it might be philanthropy work, or it might be gardening. By taking time to think about and express our lives we invest in both our mental and emotional health.  

No. 10 Manage Your Stress

Stress is a natural part of life and something that we all deal with; however too much or too frequent stress can have serious health risks including high blood pressure and irregular heart beats. When we become aware of our stressors and make a plan to deal with them, we can be ready with a healthy response. As Charles R. Swindoll said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” 

Published on January 31, 2014.