Posted by Cathy McCabe.
What gets me out of bed at the crack of dawn, even when it’s snowing, is remembering I have a half marathon to train for. On those mornings when my bed feels especially enticing, what stops me from hitting the “snooze” button is a sense of solidarity with my fellow runners.
Being part of a runner’s club means I rarely slack off from getting the exercise I need. It’s also a big part of my social life. We all need a way to stay young—and healthy—at heart.
A generational health gap
Heart health is an issue close to my own, since both my parents and my sister died of cardiovascular-related causes.
One of my most treasured photos shows my mom and dad in their 40s–I love the way it captures their mannerisms, right down to the cigarettes hanging from their hands. Sadly, my father died of a heart attack when he was my age (54).
I find it remarkable how different my parents’ generation was. Back then, exercise wasn’t something people did. Behaviors considered antisocial today were woven into the fabric of everyday life. Smoking and drinking were touted for their health benefits; counting calories was simply not done.
Nowadays, of course, we know better. Harmful products are labeled as such, and even food packaging warns about saturated fat and cholesterol–making it almost impossible for us to ignore the link between lifestyle and heart health.
Yet we all willfully ignore the warning signs from time to time. Quick test: Did you check out the cholesterol count on the last dessert you ate? Me either. All those ABVs and RDAs can simply lead to TMI (too much information). Though better informed than our parents, I suspect we still underestimate the dangers arising from our bad habits.
No longer a “man’s disease”
I recently came across a stat that grabbed my attention: Almost half of all women don’t recognize that heart disease is their number one killer. It’s still thought of as a man’s disease. But in reality, more women than men have died from it every year since 1984.
The good news is, it’s largely preventable—if you’re willing to lead a healthier lifestyle. And yes, that includes reading those food labels more often.
Here are my 4 tips for maintaining a happy heart:
- Pay attention to what goes in… Growing up, my family never checked the ingredients of what we were eating. But paying attention to the food you consume is a key part of getting and staying healthy. In general, I stay away from processed foods, but when I need to throw something quick and easy into the microwave, I check the fat and sugar content first. I also limit my intake of red meat and cold cuts, and although I love prosecco, I treat it more as a treat than a nightly ritual. The food pyramid below provides a handy rule-of-thumb for how frequently we should be consuming what kinds of foods.
- …and raise the energy level that goes out! Sports and exercise have always played an important role in my life. These days, in addition to running I’m a member of a local gym and have a terrific personal trainer. The gym creates a sense of community for me. Members often participate in fitness challenges where we hold each other accountable and support each other to keep going. Find something you like doing and then find friends or family who will inspire you to keep at it.
- Set your goals and put a plan in place to achieve them – At work, I help my clients to develop plans for pursuing their financial goals. Outside of work, I find that having a plan also helps in keeping me healthy. This includes setting goals and milestones to help orient me towards where I want to be. As well as my exercise schedule, I plan my menus and shopping for the week ahead–and even meals away from home. That plan puts in place guardrails to keep me on track towards my goals. And having milestones along the way keeps me motivated by giving me small wins to celebrate.
- Check your progress – Part of my “stay healthy” plan also includes regular physicals and screenings. With my family history, I make sure to get an annual physical every year to “check my numbers” related to my heart health, including cholesterol levels and blood pressure readings. But I also take the opportunity to check on other key health indicators through recommended screenings. Early detection of potential problems is the best way to avoid bigger issues down the road.
It’s not always easy to make the right choices–sometimes I actually do hit the snooze button instead of running! But I definitely believe in the saying “progress is perfection.” Making one small change today can lead to bigger improvements tomorrow.