In 1938, at the age of 28, my father Sam somehow contracted pericarditis – inflammation and swelling of the sac lining the heart. It can be a fatal condition, not allowing the heart to beat properly and is caused likely by a viral infection or fungus. Sam’s family arranged for emergency surgery at the Cleveland Clinic whereby the whole pericardium (lining of the heart) was stripped away from the heart muscle. The procedure is called a pericardectomy, a technique that wasn’t available in Toronto at that time. While most cases of pericarditis can be treated in an easier fashion, this wasn’t the case for my father.
When I was growing up – the scar on my dad’s chest was often a topic of discussion. Sam was told to exercise and he loved taking long walks. A tall man, always dressed in a suit, he had a black shock of hair topped with his proper hat. Sam could often be seen walking – often for miles at a time, and certainly on Sunday mornings when we strolled to the corner store for ice cream.
Sam was the oldest living patient having survived the pericardectomy procedure and he passed away from another illness at age 89. He lived a robust life – swimming at the “Y”, taking walks with his long stride, eating hearty meals, always laughing and talking to everyone he met. We can all benefit from Sam’s example of a hearty, exuberant life (which also rendered excellent care for his heart!) For our family, fitness especially became a way of life. I was swimming at three years of age, and later was part of a synchronized swim team. My brother loved swimming and hockey and my mother was an avid tennis player. While I was fortunate to have good role models as parents who enjoyed physical activity, it’s never too late to start!
The following three points are the best foundation for a healthy heart.
Lack of exercise is the most important risk factor for heart health for both men and women. Health experts recommend at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity. In a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine researchers found that the top four risk factors for heart health in women are smoking, not getting regular physical activity, excess weight, and high blood pressure. Physical activity lowers blood pressure, inflammation, blood glucose levels, and body fat levels. It also improves cholesterol levels and blood fats. Even brisk walking, swimming or dancing helps relieve stress and depression, also linked to increased risk of heart disease.
2) Simple Steps to a Heart Healthy Diet
Diet can truly make a difference between experiencing heart problems or robust heart health. Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fiber. Whole grain gluten free grains such as brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat, (kasha) are readily available. Eat fish twice a week.
Limit how much saturated fat, trans-fat, and cholesterol you eat. Only 30% of your daily calories should come from fat, with very little of that from saturated fats. Especially make sure to select 1% or 2% fat yogurt and other low-fat dairy products.
Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans-fat in your diet. (Instead, use olive oil on salads and cooked vegetables.) Limit your salt intake. Read labels and aim for low sodium levels in prepared foods. Investigate niacin, an important B vitamin as extra protection.
3) Enjoy life!
Is your life fun and rewarding? If it is, you may be less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke, so says a new study reported in the journal Circulation (medical journal for heart doctors). If you desire good heart health, seize the opportunity to have some fun in life. Consider the importance of taking time to relax and enjoy the many pleasures available every day – conversing with friends, ingesting good food, listening to pleasurable music, walking in the park, and enjoying fun times with family.