Loving Your Heart

Loving Your Heart
By: Nellie Chinyanta

“Help, I can’t breathe” Looking up at the cardiac monitor, I noticed my patient who thus far had a normal heart rate and respiratory pattern was now displaying ominous heart rhythms. When I arrived in the patient’s room, his lips were blue and he was trying to jump out of bed. “I’m going down y’all, this is it, I am dying”. Within less than a minute there was a crew of at least 10 medical personnel all trying to calm the patient down and understand his sudden change in health status. All of a sudden, the patient fell back onto his bed, and the monitor displayed a straight line. He was now in asystole. His heart had stopped. As the medical team worked tirelessly to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), the seconds turned minutes and the patient remained pulseless.

The Center for disease control reports that 21, 601 Americans die from HIV related deaths every year (www.cdc.gov/hiv). This number is significantly lower than the 50, 000 deaths reported in 1996. The HIV/Aids pandemic led to a worldwide campaign directed at HIV awareness, prevention and management. Further, researchers and pharmaceutical companies worldwide have invested large sums of money in pursuit of a cure for this disease. The decrease in the number of deaths is directly related to an increased awareness of preventive practices and management of HIV and HIV related infections.

The mortality rate of HIV infected individuals is alarming and frightening. However, there is a disease that claims more lives every year. An average of 600,000 Americans die every year from heart related complications (www.cdc.gov/heartdisease). While both of these diseases are incurable, prevention and management awareness are the keys to healthier, longer lives of infected individuals. The goal of this essay is to outline basic approaches to achieving a healthy heart and consequentially a healthier and longer life.

Many people are aware of some of the most basic ways to promote and maintain heart health. These include dietary management, exercise and stress management. However, there is not enough emphasis placed on what food is considered healthy, what exercises promote heart health and other lifestyle choices that can lead to a healthy heart.

While smaller portions are central in dietary management, the content of these portions is crucial to heart health. Experts recommend eating food low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium. These foods include fried foods, processed foods including canned, dried, smoked and pickled foods. Recommended foods include natural foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables and white meats such as chicken, turkey and fish as alternatives to beef, pork and other red meats. Also using less salt and spices in food preparation and utilizing alternate methods of food preparation such as boiling, steaming and broiling. These dietary modifications can lead to a healthier heart and healthier more fulfilling lifestyle.

Also the CDC recommends maintaining a healthy weight. A healthy weight is generally defined as one that is within the confines of a calculated body mass index (BMI). However, it is recommended that one consults a medical professional for a personalized assessment and weight recommendation. While the BMI is a fixed result, the ideal BMI for an individual is influenced by factors such as preexisting health conditions, age, race and sex.

The next recommendation is regular exercise. While all exercise is good exercise some that are more targeted to the heart have a better and longer lasting effect on health. The general recommendation is an average of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least 5 days a week.

Heart health is heavily dependent on the everyday activities of an individual. While the above listed suggestions are beneficial, they work as part of a generally healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle can be characterized by a variety of individual factors. However the following are some healthy habits to maintain.

Firstly, no tobacco, this includes cigarettes and chewing tobacco. In the same vein, the amount of caffeine consumed should be closely monitored. Caffeine causes an increase in heart rate and can cause fatigue of the heart muscle. Thus the consumption of regular coffee and soda pop should be limited if not completely eliminated from the diet.

Engaging in physical activity such as choosing to use the stairs instead of the elevator, walking instead of driving short distances and regular exercise are all healthy practices. In addition, limiting sedentary activity such as sitting in front of the television or computer for extended periods of time is an important part of a healthy heart routine. Lastly, sleeping at least 7 hours a night, managing stress levels, keeping abreast with heart related physician recommendations, regular health maintenance visits with a primary physician and taking any recommended or prescribed vitamins and medications can lead to a healthy mind, heart and life.

A healthy heart is possible, not everyone has to experience the pain, medical expenses, and even death related to heart disease. That day I learned from the death of my patient that while the heart is a small part of our anatomy without it we are nothing. Even the best medical professionals and medications cannot restart a heart that has been burdened by high cholesterol, tobacco, alcohol, inactivity and neglect.