Taking good health to heart

How appropriate that during the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day — an annual tradition related to sweeter matters of the heart — that we also acknowledge heart disease, a nefarious killer that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans as silently as Cupid’s arrow.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. February is American Heart Month, and it’s still early in the new year so there’s plenty of time in 2013 to adjust your lifestyle and make smarter choices that will prolong both the longevity and quality of your life.

The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, with women accounting for nearly half of heart disease deaths.

There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and secondhand smoke. While some of these problems are due to heredity, there’s much we can do to improve our odds of remaining heart healthy and to control problems that we may have inherited.

Stay fit and active

While there are elements of our health we can’t control, there’s much we can do, and remaining active is a huge step toward improved wellness. If winter hiking and outdoor sports and activities don’t thrill you, consider all the interesting ways to stay fit indoors. Beyond exercising in a gym, fitness center or at home, you can play tennis, racquetball, basketball, volleyball or other team sports, skate or pursue highly beneficial personal activities like swimming, spinning, yoga, martial arts and forms like Tai Chi. These strengthen mind and body, help you establish a healthy routine, and are great stress reducers, as well.

Many people in today’s electronic age also turn to gaming systems that offer interactive “aerobic,” exercise and sports programs. While clearly a step above normal couch potato activities, don’t be lulled into believing that tennis, boxing, golf or bowling on your Wii or X-Box is going to keep you fit. Sports and exercise programs on these systems may help improve your balance, coordination and agility, but we need more vigorous aerobic activities and to remain active for far greater portions of the day.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy these programs. Game maker Nintendo, for example, never claimed that its popular Wii Fit program will help people lose weight — or even become healthier. The company says it merely hoped to create a game that combines entertainment and the ability to track progress with a healthy activity. Anything that encourages us to be more physically active is positive. For those who are already engaging in physical activity, it’s not a substitute, but can be a nice complement to a regular exercise program.

Overall, a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons we have to fight heart disease. It is the overall pattern of the choices we make that count. Eating smart, exercise, sleeping well, and stress and weight reduction all play important roles.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!