February is designated American Heart Month with the mission to increase awareness about heart health, a growing problem within the Air Force, according to a cardiology consultant to the Air Force surgeon general.
Lt. Col. Samuel O. Jones said that in the medical community, heart issues are no longer thought of as a problem exclusively for older patients. More and more, inactivity in the nation’s youth is causing heart problems at younger ages, a problem that can be as damaging as smoking, he said. In some cases, unhealthy plaque buildup around the heart can start in a patient’s teens.
“Airmen have to … follow the basic tenets of a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
An important, yet often overlooked, aspect of that healthy lifestyle is found in how one goes about his or her day-to-day business, he said. The modern American lifestyle of fast food and development of technologies that make life easier, has contributed noticeably to increased inactivity.
Here are a few simple, everyday things that can increase daily heart-healthy activity:
- Park further away when you visit the commissary and walk. Those few extra paces will add up quickly and require less than one minute of added time to your errand
- If work has you pinned to a desk, consider standing for periods of time. The Center for Disease Control suggests the benefits of periodically standing can increase blood flow, burn more calories, and assist with energy balance and aid in weight management, all of which benefit heart health - Take the stairs whenever possible, forego the elevators and escalators. Taking the stairs requires little additional time and benefits overall health
- Try to avoid getting sucked into electronic targets such as smartphones in your free time, take a walk instead
- At minimum, exercise for 30 minutes, three times per week.
“It’s not about making your life easier, it’s about making your life healthier,” Jones said. “Sometimes by making our lives easier we are actually killing ourselves.”
According to the CDC website, about 715,000 Americans suffer a heart attack annually, and another 600,000 die from heart disease, the leading cause of death in both men and women. The signs of heart-related problems range from very subtle to extreme in some cases.
Jones urged Airmen who may experience chest pain, dizziness or passing out, to get evaluated. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it still produces piece of mind. Other ways to be proactive about heart health include getting regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks, avoiding tobacco products, lowering salt intake, avoiding fast foods, and if you currently have diabetes, managing it properly.
This February, evaluate your lifestyle and decide if you are doing everything you can to prevent heart-related problems. A few extra steps a day will not make life more difficult, but it will make you healthier. Challenge yourself for the benefit of yourself.