Ah, Valentine’s Day. That day of the year when love is in the air, flowers are delivered, and cards are exchanged. February, and specifically Valentine’s Day, has been known for romance for as long as we can remember. Characterized by Cupid, red hearts and St. Valentine himself, Valentine’s Day is a favorite of both men and women.
Although historians dispute the origin of Valentine’s Day (the Catholic Church, for example, recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus), there can be no question that Valentine’s Day is an important holiday to most Americans. Ever since Pope Gelasius declared February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day in 498 AD, this holiday has been a part of history.
But February isn’t known just for candy hearts and heart-shaped cards. Unfortunately, February is also known for heart disease and heart attacks.
In stark contrast to cute little candies and Valentine’s cards, heart disease is serious business. Women's heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, and one out of every three women will die of heart disease. It’s not just women who are feeling the impact of heart attack symptoms: “the incidence of heart failure jumped 14 percent between 1970 and 1994” in senior adults (source: UPI; ArcaMax Publishing Inc.)
No fewer than six heart-related educational programs are promoted in February:
1. American Heart Month, sponsored by the American Heart Association
2. Cardiac Rehabilitation Week (Valentine’s week)
3. Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day (Valentine’s Day)
4. Have-A-Heart Day (Valentine’s Day)
5. Heart Health Month
6. Women's Heart Health Day, National (3rd Friday of February in week of Valentine’s Day)
Women and men alike are stricken each year with irregular heart beats, congestive heart failure, heart murmurs, heart palpitations, enlarged hearts and multiple other heart problems. However, there are steps that, if taken, will dramatically lower the risk of coronary heart disease.
To increase heart health, follow these recommendations:
1. Avoid smoking and "secondhand smoke."
2. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes every day.
3. Eat a heart healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, such as vegetable oils and omega-3 fatty acids.
4. Maintain a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 and an abdominal circumference of less than 35 inches.
5. Keep your blood pressure below 120/80 mm Hg and your total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL.
(Source: Harvard Health Publications; Harvard Medical School; 2-1-2006)
Arguably, the most important of these recommendations is the advice to exercise regularly. “Heart disease is almost twice as likely to develop in inactive people than in those who are more active” (source: National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute). Exercise helps minimize the risk of heart disease by controlling blood lipids, diabetes and obesity. Regular exercise has also been proven to help to lower blood pressure.
But just any old workout won’t necessarily impart the benefits that are so vital for heart health. Physical activity must be of the right intensity, frequency and duration to increase the fitness of the heart. In other words, heart healthy exercise must be vigorous enough that it makes your heart beat faster. Specifically, your heart rate must increase to the point that it is in the target heart rate zone, and it must stay there for at least twenty consecutive minutes per session.
Target heart rates differ from person to person, depending on factors such as age and level of physical fitness. Many exercise enthusiasts choose to wear a heart rate monitor to help them gauge whether or not they’re in their target heart rate zone during their workout. For more information on your own personal target heart rate, and whether or not your current exercise regiment is strengthening your heart, speak with your physician or the staff at your local health club.
Being proactive by eating right, exercising regularly, and not smoking will go a long way towards protecting your heart. You’ll enjoy a longer, healthier, happier life…..and isn’t that the best gift you can give your Valentine this year?
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Tracie Johanson is the founder of Pick Up The Pace, a 30-minute exercise studio for women focusing on fitness, health and nutrition for maximum weight loss. Please visit www.letspickupthepace.com/ for more information.
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