By Cari Phillips
If one pauses for a moment and takes a deep breath, the heart’s steady drumming can be felt. The rhythm is unique, and its pace is set by a lifetime of choices the individual and their parents have made. The heart is sending life through arteries and veins, and yet its work goes almost unnoticed in the grind of daily life. Hair, skin, teeth and body image receive far more attention than the very mechanism keeping all of those alive.
Countless factors affect the heart’s function, some as basic as exercise routine and having a well-balanced diet. Others are slightly more complicated, like congenital heart defects.
Some believe taking care of the heart is only necessary in old age when things begin going wrong. John Baker, cardiologist at the Jackson Clinic, suggested developing healthy habits from the very beginning of life.
“A healthy lifestyle is something you should develop across the board,” Baker said.
One of the major causes of heart disease is the use of tobacco. However, “living a sedentary lifestyle and having the typical American diet is just as detrimental,” Baker said.
Most people seek a cardiologist’s care because of initial chest pains, which can be caused from a wide range of issues. Exercising and dietary habits formed early in life can help prevent these pains. Baker said he generally advises men to begin regular screenings of the heart at age 55 and women at age 65. Certain symptoms, like a weighty feeling in one’s chest, should be examined by a doctor right away, no matter what the age.
“It is never too early to start caring for your heart,” said David Roberts, a physician’s assistant with experience in cardiology. “Heart disease doesn’t occur overnight. Most risk factors for heart disease are caused by lifestyle choices that begin early in life. These risk factors include smoking; obesity, which can lead to diseases such as diabetes; and elevated cholesterol levels.”
Many students train vigorously for marathons and participate in various sporting activities with no concern about how his or her heart will handle the stress. Baker suggested talking to a doctor before engaging in any physical activity.
Even for students, it is crucial to start taking a look at what one eats and how much physical activity the body needs.
“By exercising for as little as 30 minutes a day you can reduce your risk of heart disease,” said an expert on the American Heart Association’s website. “In fact, studies show that for every hour of walking, you may increase your life expectancy by two hours.”
In honor of American Heart Month, the American Heart Association is posting statistics, offering guides for healthy living and launching several campaigns to raise awareness for heart disease — particularly among women — throughout the month of February.