Lighten Up: Is your heart trying to tell you something?

By Cathleen Kronemer

Aside from being the shortest month in our calendar year, February boasts another claim to fame: the observance of American Heart Month, the aim of which is to increase public awareness of heart disease. A new and frightening statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, regardless of gender, claiming the lives of more than 600,000 Americans each year.

Nearly 715,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year; and yet many individuals are poorly educated in regard to recognizing the signs and symptoms of a pending attack.  Far from the scenes depicted in movies and on television, where an actor suffering an attack clutches his chest and collapses to the ground, real-life situations can manifest themselves with a variety of symptoms: discomfort in the neck, back and shoulders; shortness of breath; fatigue or dizziness; sweating; and nausea. Since every one of these symptoms can be attributed to other illnesses, it is often difficult for an individual to realize that he or she is indeed suffering from heart disease.

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One of the most obvious and telling signs of heart disease is the body’s inability to perform at its usual level of exertion.  This is a prominent reason why so many physicians and fitness experts urge individuals to stay active.  By becoming familiar with your own body’s energy levels both during and post-exercise, as well as your recovery time, you will be better equipped to recognize when your body may be taking a downward turn.  This requires paying close attention to even the smallest details while you are engaging in exercise classes, strength-training, racquetball, biking, or even yoga sessions.

Even though your time in the gym may be viewed as “recreation”, putting a bit more emphasis on body awareness can become life-saving.  Keeping track of such things as breathing rate, level of thirst, sweating, unusual pain, and early fatigue may seem like work at first, the last thing you want to be thinking about during your scheduled hour of fun. In the long run, however, you may be doing yourself the greatest favor of all! 

Certainly each of us tries to control the many aspects within our daily lives that can help to stave off heart disease: prudent food choices, limiting sugar and alcohol consumption, watching sodium intake with a vigilant eye on blood pressure, and maintaining a healthy weight/body composition.  Coupling this with regular mindful exercise will put you on your most successful path towards keeping heart disease out of your way!