Heart Health and the Power of Exercise
What is more essential, more at our core and more poetic than our hearts? Our literal hearts. The ones we honor in February with American Heart Month. Not only is this an awareness month for everyone; heart health is a major focus for women. In fact, the efforts of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign is said to have helped improve the status of women’s heart health, since heart disease is the number one killer among women. This means it also beats out cancer, which is generally perceived as people’s biggest fear. In fact, December and January traditionally see a rise in heart-related deaths. Cold temperatures, the flu, holiday stress and diminished medical staffing are some of the hypothetical reasons.
Heart Health in the News
Heart health was brought to the foreground at the end of last year, when actress Carrie Fisher, most notably famous for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, died of sudden cardiac arrest on an airline flight. She was 60 years old. Her death was the culmination of a month by similar high-profile fatalities. While heart attacks and deaths are high throughout the year, research shows that over Christmas, heart attacks rise by about four percent, and the average age of deaths is younger.*
Three Celebrities, Three Types of Heart Deaths
While Carrie Fisher died of sudden cardiac arrest, a week prior to her death, the singer George Michael died at age 53 of heart failure. The difference between the two causes of death is that sudden cardiac arrest is connected to malfunction of the electrical system of the heart, resulting in the inability of the system to properly pump blood. Heart failure is when the heart cannot effectively pump blood through the arteries and circulatory system. Meanwhile, a third type of heart fatality was that of actor Alan Thicke, who died earlier in December at age 69 when his aorta ruptured while he was playing hockey with his son.
One thing these prominent people had in common: All of their deaths were unexpected.
Heart Health Maintenance
There are a variety of recommendations to maintain heart health with special attention to those with a family history of heart disease. People should:
- Engage in at least moderate physical activity
- Get regular medical care and get their blood checked for cholesterol
- Get their teeth regularly checked, as dental infections can impact heart health
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Not smoke or use tobacco
- Practice good nutrition, eating a variety of healthy foods from the basic food groups
Why I Love the Exercise Option
As a lifelong athlete, I feel compelled to give testimony endorsing exercise for heart health. The heart is a muscle. And like any muscle, it gets stronger with work, such as exercise. A stronger heart works with less strain since it can pump a greater volume of blood through the body with less work. If you exercise, you’ll notice your heart rate is slower, since the heart muscle needs less effort to pump blood. So, exercise—at any level—is beneficial, even to those with already existing heart disease (and as in all cases, with the advice of a doctor).
I’ve been working my heart through working out my entire life. It doesn’t mean I’m immune from concerns or age-related checkups (I have a cardiologist). But there are things my body is able to do because my heart is strong and able. And that gives me tremendous confidence and pleasure. I follow my beliefs, and I believe that the body is meant to move.
There’s a ritual I have created at Points Group, where I work. Every year at my birthday party, I get down on the office floor and do a series of push-ups. Everyone applauds, and I celebrate. It’s my way of expressing my capability and strength—my true celebration, particularly as the years go on. It is especially powerful since I am the oldest person in the office, by a lot – 30+ years older than many of my co-workers.
Good habits, such as exercise, beget good habits (such as adhering to the list of recommendations above). And while we cannot entirely control our destiny, we can empower our hearts and our minds with exercise.