Show Your Heart Love
by Dr. Marie Mesidor
February was first recognized as American Heart Month in the 1960s by President Lyndon B. Johnson (Proclamation 3566- American Health Month, 1964). Despite significant attention and progress in addressing heart health, it continues to pose a significant risk. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a collection of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, including heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and aortic aneurism. CVDs account for more deaths globally than any other factor and are the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases an individual’s risk of heart disease and stroke.
The good news is that individuals can make changes to their behavior and habits that can significantly reduce the risk of developing CVDs or improve outcomes for those already living with CVDs. Checking blood pressure periodically is an important health promotion behavior, as individuals with high blood pressure often do not experience any symptoms. CVD risk factors include a sedentary life style, excessive alcohol consumption, use of tobacco products, and maintaining unhealthy eating habits.
There are many resources online to help individuals make improvements in their nutrition and physical activity. ChooseMyPlate.gov provides useful information on nutrition and psychical activity, as well as a SuperTracker to help individuals plan, analyze and track diet and physical activity. It is never too late to stop using tobacco products and those who quit after developing an illness can experience health benefits. Smokefree.gov includes information and resources that have helped many individuals become nonsmokers.
Overall, maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle includes a commitment to self-love. Many of us are focused on helping those we love and care about (e.g., significant others, parents, children, friends, etc.) adopt healthy practices while ignoring our own needs. Often individuals are living stressed and unsatisfying lives that don’t bring a sense of meaning or purpose or are not in line with deeply held values because a commitment to self-compassion is missing. Showing your heart love may mean saying no to that opportunity that looks good on the surface, but that you are not really committed to and don’t have time for, and choosing to indulge in an activity that brings you joy (e.g., reading a book, listening to music, taking a nice walk, or whatever does it for you).
Mindfulness can help you take a step towards self-compassion in that you tune in to what’s going on inside you without judgment. Mindfulness has been described as being aware in the present moment with acceptance. Individuals can adopt a more mindful way to living by engaging in a variety of mindful practices (mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful eating, and mindful movements like yoga and tai chi). To learn more, visit: www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm.
Although heart health continues to be a significant issue since President Johnson first recognized February as American Heart Month in the 1960s, the attention to this cause continues to be strong. The Million Hearts initiative began in 2011 with the goal of preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Visit the website (www.millionhearts.hhs.gov) to learn more about the initiative and what you can do to improve your heart health and that of those in your community.
Dr. Marie Mesidor is a clinical psychologist and Health Behavior Coordinator at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System with the Health Promotion & Disease Prevention team. She is involved in training primary care teams in implementing motivational interviewing techniques. Dr. Mesidor also provides individual and group interventions focused on weight management, stress, depression/anxiety, physical illness management, and tobacco cessation. In addition, she conducts bariatric pre-surgery psychological evaluations and psychosocial assessments for the blind rehabilitation program.