I lost my father to heart disease at the age of 52. He was one of the statistics they refer to below. We are often told that this disease is highly preventable simply by following a healthy lifestyle. I will admit that my Dad had a lot of stress in his life, did not exercise, loved red meat and bacon and hated to go the doctor. So, yes, I think he could have lived a longer, healthier life had he paid more attention to the preventative activities such as exercise, diet and a calmer lifestyle. Did I mention also that he smoked and was overweight, had high cholesterol and his blood pressure was always rising?
Fortunately, I did not follow in his footsteps and have taken many steps to avoid an early death of a heart attack, am energetic and healthy 21 years past the amount of years he lived. So what did I do that was so different? I do believe stress is a a big factor. My father experienced lots of it ~ financial, his relationships, his job, etc. In a “fight or flight response” (coined by a scientist named Walter Cannon to describe the body’s response to stress), this response allowed early humans to “jump into high gear” to avoid those saber-toothed tigers. Today our body is going through the same physical changes that those early humans did; however, instead of protecting us from that tiger, this response can be harmful.
Dr. Jamie McManus, M.D., in her book, Your Personal Guide to Wellness, talks about the importance of stress management because those of us who become chronically stressed by job, marriage, financial worries, traffic jams, etc. puts our bodies in a constant low-grade state of “fight or flight” and this has long-term possible physiologic results of hypertension and heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and, of course, chronic anxiety and depression. She further states that what began as a “hectic life” can result in real disease. In looking back, I do believe that was at the root of my own father’s heart attack. And of course all of the other “habits” he had just added to it.
I loved Dr. McManus’s formula to manage stress simply by creating a “magnificent tone” in your life and following the Triple “A” Map which includes Alter, Avoid and Accept. She quotes Herbert G. Lingren, Ph.D., an Extension Family Life Specialist: “…choosing a low-stress response to life’s bumps and bruises will not only preserve your sanity but also your physical health.” She then goes on to describe the 3 A’s:
- Alter your life by removing the source the stress by becoming more organized in both personal and family life and become more efficient in the use of time, always having backup plans for any emergency.
- Avoid stress by removing yourself from the stressful situation ~ sometimes it is okay to walk away, to let go, to say “no” ~ know your limits.
- Accept the situation simply by equipping yourself physically and mentally for stress. This involves making good nutritional choices which include whole foods, whole grains, lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, restricting sugar, fried foods and caffeine, and of course including exercise in your daily routine.
Dr. McManus also mentions eating fatty fish at least 2 to 3 times per week and/or take fish oil supplements that contain both EPA and DHA (the essential fatty acids humans need). Those with anxiety and other mood disorders will benefit from B vitamins. An herb, Valerian, is a botanical which has been used for sleep disturbance as well as anxiety. She also mentions relaxation therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and hypnosis to show significant benefit for anxiety disorders. Lavender, rose, cypress and violet also can play a role because as you inhale them they can relax muscles, sedate, provide pain relief and reduce stress and depression.
Although I nor my husband of 75 years (and going strong!) do not have high blood pressure, we have just learned about a supplement that addresses two important mechanisms that are known to impact blood pressure levels already in the normal range by promoting blood circulation and promoting healthy blood vessels. Practicing prevention as part of our lifestyle, we have chosen to take this on a daily basis.
The infographic below describes the different kinds of heart disease as well as how to lower your risk. How is your heart health?