Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC
Yes, it’s February, so it’s “Heart Month.” You may be thinking that this designation is linked to the fact that Valentine’s Day is embedded squarely in the center of it. This is actually a happy coincidence.
Valentine’s day has a somewhat nebulous origin, with some people tracing it to dark and foreboding stories of ancient Rome or to the Catholic church in the third century A.D. The modern feeding frenzy on chocolate is very different, indeed, from sagas of martyrdom and murder.
The “Heart Month” idea was literally an act of Congress dating back to February, 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed the first one. It was a health promotion in a day when more than half of all deaths were due to cardiovascular disease if they were not in Viet Nam. Today, cardiovascular disease claims about 18 million lives worldwide annually, though you can bet the farm that is under-reported in countries that lack functional governments.
According to the American Heart Association, 2,300 Americans die daily of cardiovascular disease, or one every 38 seconds. That means that while I type this, we will lose several families. I’ll hurry.
So, for Heart Month, let’s talk a bit about how to take care of yours. Here are a few ideas that might help.
Walk. Set a goal for distance or time, and patiently work toward it. Walking is as good as running for cardiovascular health, but it is much better for your knees. It should get your heart rate up and sustain it for a while. Remember, the heart is a muscle, and it needs exercise, too!
Walking is also just good for your mind. It gets your attention refocused to the beauty of nature and the magnitude of the world around us. How’s that for putting our problems into perspective? It’s also a great time to think. If you are working out an issue, walking either alone or with a friend who can be a sounding board could be a big help to clarify things. Consider a non-disclosure agreement with your walking mate if you discuss anything incriminating or that might tie you to Russia.
Walking can be good for the soul, too. Look at the world around you as you walk. Consider that as King David wrote many of the Psalms, he was likely outside looking at the heavens (re-read Psalm 19). How can anyone see the moon and stars, or a sunrise, or the morning or afternoon sky without seeing divine fingerprints? Maybe this is a good private prayer time for you, too. See, your mood is better already.
Not long ago, an academic paper announced that advanced imaging has confirmed that you have nerve fibers in your bone marrow. That means your brain, including the “mood” centers, has input to the tissue that makes white blood cells. Yes, your mind/attitude/outlook may well directly affect your immunity to disease, infection, or cancer.
Walking will lower your blood pressure. Not only will it directly help your circulation, but for reasons mentioned above, it may significantly reduce your stress level, then the blood pressure will follow. Don’t toss that Lisinopril yet, but know that your exercise will help.
Exercise also helps increase the “good” cholesterol and decrease the “bad” cholesterol. Add some Omega 3 fatty acids to your diet or supplementation regimen, and you’ll have a double benefit.
Walking may help you with weight control, provided you drop your carbohydrate intake to something reasonable. Add some fruits and vegetables to your meals. And walking/exercise acts as an appetite suppressant! How cool is that? Walk more, fewer Big Macs.
Now, let’s return to Valentine’s Day for a moment: intimacy also improves your health. Your immune system gets a boost. You have less risk (if you are male) of prostate problems (that goes to zero for females!). There is some suggestion in the literature that frequent hugging can drop blood pressure as much as prescription drugs in some cases. So, go ahead with plans for the chocolate and roses. Given the impact on health, Valentine expenses should be a tax deduction under the health care section.
So, take heart! Or, perhaps more appropriately expressed, take charge of your heart. Aid your aorta. Mend your mind. Succor your soul. Pamper your pump. And…chug some chocolate.