If you are over 50, you might remember this song, “You Gotta Have Heart” from the popular Broadway musical Damn Yankees. The story is about a long-suffering baseball fan of the now defunct Washington Senators who it seems would do anything, even sell his soul, to beat those DAMN YANKEES. The word HEART in this instance is all about courage, about having the will to carry on even in the face of almost certain defeat. But mention the word HEART to medical professionals, and I am certain they would undoubtedly think you are referring to that four-chambered, blood-pumping, life-sustaining muscular organ found in the center of the chest, that beats relentlessly every second, of every minute of every hour of every day for as long as you live. In February, it is appropriate that we take a closer look at this vital 300 gram (10.5 ounce) muscular organ, not only because of Valentine’s Day, but because February is National Heart Awareness Month. In light of this, some appropriate questions to ask yourself this month are:
1) How is my heart doing?
2) Am I taking good care of my heart?
3) Am I familiar with the most common causes of heart disease?
Considering how important the heart is, it is not unusual to find references to it all around us. Just walk down the cereal aisle of your favorite supermarket and you will find Heart Smart cereal on the shelf. Visit any drug store and you will find aspirin bottles prominently displaying the picture of a heart on their label. In addition, we have all seen ads for treadmills, read articles on stress management and been told not to smoke, all with a focus on heart-healthy living. And who can overlook the emphasis placed on eating a proper diet, one that includes heart-friendly items such as whole grains, salmon, nuts, berries, beans/lentils (legumes) and, believe it or not, broccoli. These, along with a regular exercise regimen, have been shown to be the most important ways to protect your heart from developing one of those all too common heart attacks. So, how are you doing? Is your heart benefiting from the important lifestyle choices you are making each and every day? One of the best times to find that out is by having a yearly physical where your blood pressure is taken and a sample of your blood is tested. The numbers reported from both will give you important indications as to how your heart is doing. For example, at rest your blood pressure numbers should be in the range of 120‑140 over 70‑90. Pressures higher than this results in what is commonly referred to as hypertension, a condition that has been shown to be a major risk factor in heart disease. And keeping your cholesterol in check is also very important to your heart’s health. That is why doctors pay so much attention to your LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol) blood numbers. Ideally, what you want is for your HDL number to be high and your LDL number to be low. Again, when these numbers are out of whack, the risk of developing heart disease increases significantly. But do not be discouraged, heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are manageable, primarily through diet, regular exercise and taking prescribed drugs, such as statins to control cholesterol and beta-blockers to control normal heart rhythm. The bottom line is that Heart Smarts are essential to keeping this muscular organ strong and functioning normally. So, why not spend the month of February reacquainting yourself with your “ticker”? Who knows, your life might just depend on it!