When it comes to the month of February, many things may come to mind – February blues, the shortest month, Valentine’s Day and even reading week, for some. But more importantly than all those things combined, February is heart health awareness month and so it’s our tickers that should really be front and centre.
Why is this so important? Perhaps you remember the Timex commercial – it takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Well, despite the fact that our hearts are able to withstand incredible stressors, as one of our body’s most vital organs, damage to it can be catastrophic. Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women? Sadly, it is, which is why it’s essential we understand what it is and how we can prevent it. After all, knowledge is power and empowering… and in this case, can save your life!
A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is an occlusion or blockage of the arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. This blockage can result in injury of heart cells or even death of the heart muscle.
The risk factors of heart attacks are different in women and men. For example, having diabetes puts women at a higher risk of heart attacks, making the need for proper insulin and blood sugar levels greater for us.
There are two types of risk factors, those we can influence (modifiable) and those we can’t (un-modifiable), for example:
- Modifiable: diet, weight, stress level, smoking, exercise, alcohol, activity level and diabetes
- Un-modifiable: genetic factors and age
Not only do women and men have different risk factors, but also the symptoms we experience are different. In fact, women often experience less severe symptoms than men, so we need to be more acutely aware of these warning signs:
- Sudden or gradual onset of tightness or pain in chest that refers to the jaw, neck and shoulders
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Feeling of weakness
What you can do to protect yourself?
- Reduce Stress: Often inevitable and unchanging, however, how we handle and perceive our stressors can alter our physiological response to it. Engaging in activities that lower stress, such as deep breathing, meditation and journaling can help us cope exceptionally well with our daily stress and make our hearts happy.
- Exercise: Daily movement is essential. Try a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps every day.
- Eat Well: Eat frequent meals (5 per day), including protein at every meal to help maintain blood sugar and insulin balance. Increase your vegetable, fruit and fiber intake. Emphasize healthy fats in your diet, such as omega 3s and extra virgin olive and flaxseed oils.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: A body mass index between 18.5 – 24.9 is considered ideal.
- Quit Smoking: Cessation of as much as 6 months is associated with a lower risk of heart attack. Acupuncture is a great, drugless way to help reduce cravings and side effects associated with smoking cessation.
- Drink in Moderation: While water should always be consumed in abundance, limit consumption of alcoholic beverages to one glass, or less, per day.
- Give/Get Hugs: Yes, it’s true! This sign of affection has the ability to lower blood pressure and heart rate, so wrap your arms freely and frequently around loved ones.
The most important thing to remember is if you experience any of the warning signs and are unsure what it is, seek immediate medical care. Most of the damage caused by heart attacks occurs within the first two hours.
So this February, make your heart your sweetie and commit to making heart healthy choices!
In great health & happiness,
Dr. Michelle Peris is a Naturopathic Doctor whose goal is to inspire health through educating, motivating and empowering people. She has a family based practice out of a clinic in Oakville, Ontario.
Contact Dr. Michelle today to book your 15 minute complimentary consult.