Heart of the Matter

After my sister’s death in May, I promised to devote this space to a discussion of the factors that contributed to her death. While I have to a limited extent, I have found that the words just will not come. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still in denial (while the facts are irrefutable, it still hasn’t sunk in) or if my grief is just causing me to have writer’s block. So, the most I can offer you at this time is my word to keep up the awareness on important health issues facing women, and particularly women of color.

The very most important thing we can do is realize we are responsible for our own health, and we need to make it a priority. As important as all the things we have to do on any given day for ourselves, our family, and others may seem, the best way to ensure we’ll be able to continue to do them is to remain healthy … and alive. Don’t make the mistake of thinking “It can’t happen to me.”  Heart attack is no respecter of class, gender, race, ethnicity, or age. Best to err on the side of caution and think, “It could happen to me if I don’t take care of myself.” That’s not to say that you should swathe yourself in bubble wrap and sit quietly on your sofa munching carrots and celery. Just remain aware and be proactive.

Be informed. There is a wealth of information right at your fingertips, free for the taking. The American Heart Association has a wealth of information on cardiac health. Go Red for Women has a wealth of information specifically related to cardiac disease in women. WomenHeart is a lesser known, but valuable resource, as is Heart Healthy Women.

Try to lead a balanced existence. Yes, exercise is important, but 30 minutes a day is generally regarded as at least a good starting point. Unless you are planning to enter a triathlon, there is no need to train as though you are. Find something you enjoy, as you’ll be more likely to continue to do it. Don’t underestimate the value of the at-home exercise routine, especially if you’re just starting out.  Try to get outside for at least 10 -20 minutes a day. Not only will the fresh air do you good, the sunshine (even on overcast days) can help stave off depression.  Communing with nature can also be a good stress reliever.  Watch your nutrition, but don’t go overboard. If you deny yourself those yummy french fries too long, you will end up gorging yourself.  Remember the 80/20 rule: eat healthy 80% of the time, and allow yourself some leeway 20% of the time. Take time to enjoy yourself. I know that may sound a little crazy, but in re-evaluating my situation, I found that I wasn’t doing much of that. By the time I finished all the things I had to do, I was so mentally and emotionally drained, all I did was sit on the sofa and vegetate. It’s been a difficult habit to break, but I notice a big difference in my outlook and attitude when I take the time to make myself happy. It doesn’t have to be anything big: a few hours spent wandering around Barnes and Noble is a real treat for me. Take up a new hobby. Pick back up and old one.

Pace yourself. A major lifestyle overhaul can be daunting and fraught with frustration and failure. Try the “Change One Thing” approach: identify one fitness and one nutritional goal and incorporate them into your life. When you feel you have mastered one goal, set a new one. These goals don’t have to be major: maybe you can resolve to park further away from the entrance of anywhere you go. Or – a big one for me – drinking more water.  Small successes lead to big gains!

We, as women, spend so much time selecting just the right shade of blush, or lipstick or foundation; in choosing the perfect shoe or coordinating the ultimate outfit. Now is the time to check our priorities and put our health first; like our life depends on it. Because it does.

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