by Dennis DeSilvey, MD
It is challenging to contemplate whether I should talk about the healthy heart or use the more inclusive term of heart health. I like that latter term because it speaks to the whole person and what an individual can do for the whole person to have heart health and, thereby, a healthy heart. The science of “wellness” continues to develop and in recent years we have learned a great deal about what you can do to enjoy good health.
What is good health? I would offer that it is not just physical health but includes mental, social, and spiritual health. Mental health refers to the way a person handles stress and life’s stressors. Some people become overwhelmed by stress and are incapable of dealing with it in a productive manner. I will discuss this concept in greater detail but first I would like to dispel some of the myths about living a healthy lifestyle. That is what ultimately makes for a healthy heart.
The first myth is that you need to follow a certain diet to achieve heart health. None of the popular diets (e.g. Atkins, South Beach, the Zone, etc.) are marketed as a “dietary pattern” and that is what each of us should be aspiring to follow. Fad diets are usually a six week program and then reality hits — that it is not a sustainable long term solution and we go back to our former ways. The answer: eat healthy by including plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting red meat, avoiding processed and high sugar foods, and eat locally grown food as much as you can. I recommend Michael Polan’s book, Food Rules. It is simple, straight forward, and no need for complicated dietary formulas.
The next myth is that you need to generate enormous amounts of pain and go to the gym seven days a week in order to get fit. Walking is the best exercise. The truth is that just being active during the day is an essential component to a good exercise program. Start with simple forms of exercise: use the stairs, park away from the door where you are going, and go for a walk as much as you can.
At this point someone may ask where is the comment about smoking? That is a “no brainer.” Smoking is the most dangerous acquired behavior known to man. The list of diseases that happen to smokers continues to grow. I will do anything I can do to help patients stop smoking. Tobacco users need to understand why they smoke; is it to relive stress, not gain weight, or enjoy one’s coffee? None of the reasons offered justify the continuation of a destructive and socially costly habit.
I started this article with a comment about stress and I would be remiss not to finish with a suggestion. Stress is part of life and how we handle it is important. I spent 40 years in the Army Reserves and we would teach troops about how to make stress energizing. This is a very important concept and one worth exploring. If you are overwhelmed by stress, the stress will win. If you use the stress to energize yourself to deal with the stressors in your life, the stress actually goes away because you are in control. This is what I try to convey to patients who feel overwhelmed by illness. If you take control of your life, to the extent that you can, then healing and wellness, and a healthy life will come much more quickly.
Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. Dennis DeSilvey, MD lives in Sedgwick and is a cardiologist with Blue Hill Cardiovascular Medicine, a department of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital.