In my mind’s eye and ear, I can see and hear Sonny and Cher sing that hit song from 1967. Who could have imagined that Cher would still be pulling in huge audiences to her performances and that Sonny would go on to be a respected member of Congress and die fairly early in his life. Their song captured the feeling that no matter what happens, time keeps going on. One could take the song more literally and marvel at our heart that, without any conscious thought by any of us, just keeps beating, on and on and on.
February is American Heart Month, and it is a good reminder that, even though our heart continues to pump on its own without any direct guidance from us, we need to pay attention to our heart’s health. There is scientific proof that there are many things we can do that will help our heart beat longer and stronger.
The American Heart Association identifies seven key health factors and behaviors that increase risks for heart attacks and strokes. They call them “Life’s Simple 7” and can be used to measure and track progress toward improving cardiovascular health for all Americans. Life’s Simple 7 are: not-smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
None of these Simple 7 should come as a surprise to any of us, each one of the seven will not only help our hearts but improve our health in other areas. What we do need to recognize is that the heart is at the center of all of our health; it delivers food and oxygen to all parts of our body, and it should be number one on our list of organs to take care of, but it is so reliable that we take it for granted. We might get a cold, so our lungs don’t work very well. We might get the stomach flu and not digest much food for a while. We could sprain our ankle or break something that requires us to do rehab and exercise to get back to normal. We might find ourselves getting winded going up one flight of stairs and realize that we need to get in better aerobic shape. But we often don’t get any prior warning of heart problems.
Case in point. During my annual physical two years ago, my EKG came back abnormal. I was scheduled for:
- A heart imaging test, which got my attention when they injected a radioactive substance that they took out of a lead container before putting it into my arm
- An echogram where they take pictures of your heart and the valves working (the technician took the time to show me the screen and pointed out the muscles working and the valves opening and closing)
- A stress test where I walked faster and faster on a steeper and steeper treadmill
I suspect many of you have gone though some or all of these tests. For me, I was given a clean bill of health with the cardiologist indicating that the EKG must have been in error because my heart was working just fine. The reason I tell you this was to relate how I felt from the time I got the bad EKG until I was told everything was all right.
For the first time in my life, I thought about the health of my heart, about what I had been doing as far as exercise, things I ate, my weight, etc. I thought about the descriptions of heart surgeries some of my friends have had. I thought about limitations that I might have if I had some sort of heart disease. It made me stop and think.
There are actions we can take. You can click here to find more details on the Simple 7 to help you understand more about where the risks are for heart disease. There is one risk that I want to highlight. High blood pressure.
High blood pressure is sometimes called the silent killer because it can really have a debilitating effect on your heart. It’s pretty easy to tell how important your blood pressure is. Whenever you go to the doctor, for whatever reason, the first thing they do is take your blood pressure. If your doctor thinks your blood pressure is too high, take notice! Get proactive. This link is to a page of questions you need to ask your doctor if she/he is worried about your blood pressure. I think we are often too passive about our own health. It’s our health, it’s not our doctor’s health or our wife’s or husband’s health – it’s our health. Your doctor’s answers to these questions will be specific to his/her understanding of your specific health condition. It’s the way you can get the personal guidance that fits you best. There are actions and medicines that can treat high blood pressure. The worst thing you can do is to do nothing.
I think the real purpose of American Heart Month is to get us to think about our heart before we have a bad EKG. They want us to do an honest evaluation of where we stand on the Simple 7. They want us to take action.
Sonny and Cher knew the beat would go on – it’s up to us to help that beat continue for a long, long time.