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February is National Heart Month so I want to take this time to have a “heart to heart” with you about heart health.
Have you ever had a wake-up call like this?
Click HERE to read a story of my personal wake up call.
A year ago I was visiting family across country for Christmas and I was having some weird heaviness on my chest but I didn’t want anyone to worry so I kept it to myself. It didn’t go away and I thought to myself, I better do the responsible thing and get it checked out. I didn’t want to alarm anyone so I ordered an Uber to take me to an Urgent Care and then I quietly made my way out of the house without anyone noticing.
I then thought I better at least tell my husband and ask him to go with me, just in case.
The Uber dropped us off and I went into the Urgent Care and was quickly turned away since I was having chest pain. They told me I needed to go to the Emergency Room.
I about flipped my lid at this point because the Uber had already left and I didn’t want to go to the Emergency Room and rack up thousands of dollars in medical bills. I broke down and started crying in the lobby and didn’t know what to do.
Now I had to call my sister-in-law and ask her to pick me up and take me to an emergency room. And now the whole family would know and start freaking out about this. It was right before Christmas so everyone was out doing last minute shopping.
I did go and they did a bunch of tests and couldn’t find anything wrong with me. So they wanted to be extra cautious and transport me to a heart center for overnight observation and more tests. Now, this was going to mess up Christmas for the whole family and cost me a bazillion dollars and it was probably nothing. I said no way and signed the AMA (Against Medical Advice) papers and went back to my brother’s house to enjoy Christmas with my family.
Well, the heaviness on my chest continued even after we flew home. I was monitoring my blood pressure at home and it seemed pretty high so I decided to make an appointment with my functional medicine doctor to talk to her about it. She did an EKG and everything looked fine but she said that I needed to go immediately to the emergency room and have a full work up. I was shocked.
Again, I didn’t want to go and rack up thousands of dollars in medical bills and find out everything was normal. Well, my doctor got very stern with me and said something that still scares me today. She asked me, “Do you know what the number one symptom of a heart attack is?” I said no. She said, “It is sudden death!” What! OMG! Now I definitely had to go to the emergency room.
So, I did. And I did rack up thousands of dollars worth of medical bills and they did every test possible and everything checked out fine. The doctors ended up concluding that it must be anxiety and they suggested I try anxiety medication. Go figure.
After a 6 month journey of working on natural ways to treat the anxiety that I didn’t know I had, I still had high blood pressure and it was finally determined that my problem was just high blood pressure. So now, even though I try to do all things natural, I have had to resolve myself to taking the blood pressure medication at least until I can improve my health with diet and exercise, which I am working on. It is good accountability though because as you probably know, us mom’s put everyone else first before taking care of ourselves.
The scary thing is that heart disease is the number one leading killer of women and without warning it can be too late. Having high blood pressure puts me at an even higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
This next story has always stuck with me.
When I was a young mom a friend’s mom died unexpectedly from heart failure at 60 years old. She was a new grandma and just came home from a Disneyworld trip with her daughter and grandkids and wasn’t feeling that great. She was in good health and had no prior issues or warning signs. Initial tests looked good. They couldn’t find any problems but she just kept feeling worse.
Surprisingly, within days they found out she was in heart failure and needed a transplant. Unfortunately before that could happen, she died. This all happened within a week, with no warning. They were devastated and in disbelief that this could happen. My friend and her sister’s later started a non-profit to educate and bring awareness to the problem of heart disease in women.
I was so shocked and saddened that she lost her mom at such a young age and that her kid’s lost their grandma before even becoming old enough to remember her later. My friend and her sister’s dramatically changed their lifestyle and became committed to healthy eating and exercise to ensure better heart health for their future. I remember thinking they were young, we all were young and 60 years old was a long way away to worry about that now.
Well, now I am almost 55. Sixty is only 5 years away. I have a brand new grandchild. I can’t wait any longer to make my health a priority.
And no matter how old you are, you can’t either. That is why you need to know these things.
Important Things You Need to Know About Heart Health
Know the Facts
- In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women.
- 1 in 4 women die of heart disease, compared to 1 in 8 from breast cancer.
- 64% die suddenly with no previous symptoms.
Know the Risk Factors
- being overweight
- having a poor diet
- physical inactivity
- excessive alcohol use
- high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
Know the Warning Signs
- dull, heavy to sharp pain or pressure in the chest, back or neck
- fluttering feelings in the chest (heart palpitations)
- shortness of breath, fatigue, cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness
- pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck or jaw
Know Your Why (Why you need to make your heart health a priority)
- Think about your family and how much they need you to stick around.
- Think of your grandkids or future grandkids and how much you want to see them grow up, get married and have families of their own.
- Think of all your hopes and dreams of the things you still want to see, experience and do in your life.
- Think of all the ways you want to give back and make an impact on this world while you are here.
Know Your Numbers *
- Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL
- HDL (good) cholesterol should be 50 mg/dL or higher
- LDL (bad) cholesterol should be less than 100mg/dL
- Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dL
- Fasting Blood/Sugar level from 60 to 110mg/dL
- Blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mm HG
- Body Mass Index should be less than 25kg/m2
- Waist circumference should be less than 35 in.
Know Your Plan
- Start with getting your yearly physical exam with your medical doctor.
- Document all your tests and numbers.
- Determine the changes you need to make to improve your heart health.
- Set some goals, write them out and post them somewhere.
- Set up a reminder, like a picture of your why on the refrigerator door, or wear an aromatherapy bracelet to remind you.
5 small steps to make great strides in improving your heart health
- Reducing your weight by at least 10% can make a big difference. This post explains why.
- Exercise 5 times per week for 30 minutes. Look for creative ways to work it into your daily life. Here are 25 simple ways to get some exercise.
- Reduce your stress level. Take a look at the things in your life that are causing the most stress and try to eliminate what you can. Read this to learn how stress affects your heart health along with tips on how to reduce it.
- Reduce your sugar intake. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories a day of sugar which is 6 teaspoons or 25 grams. Read this to learn more about sugar and heart disease and what to look out for.
- Eat, natural, God made, organic foods and eliminate processed food from your diet.
I have been working on these steps myself.
After years of focusing on raising my family, I realized I was neglecting myself by not making my own health a priority. I started with the motto last year, “Be the best I can be at 53” but after not meeting my goals for the year I changed it to “Expecting More from 54.” If I don’t meet my health and wellness goal for this year, I already know my motto for next year will be “Staying Alive at 55.”
It is a constant struggle but I have made huge strides in living a healthier, natural lifestyle. This year I committed to giving up sugar and that is going really well. My daughter and I started a Facebook Group for those who want encouragement and support in giving up sugar. Please join us if that is something you are interested in.
What about you? Do you have your own personal motto? I’d love to hear it. I’d also love to hear your “why?”
Wishing you Joy in your journey,
* Please note: The suggested ranges for healthy numbers are from the American Heart Association.
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