Picture it: lunchtime, 7th grade. Everyone is carrying pre-portioned trays piled high with mashed potatoes, chocolate milk and a square piece of pizza; a time when no one seems to debate nutritional values. The coolest kid in school catches your gaze as you take your seat on the caterpillar-like tables, and then begins to walk your way. As you anxiously avert your gaze and begin reading your milk carton’s ingredients list, they reach your bug-shaped metal table and ask if they can give you their phone number. Shocked, you sense your face warming slightly, but somehow manage to bravely reach for your flip phone or notebook to transcribe the numbers. You just exited the realm of impossibility and entered a reality of love come true. That evening and five mirror pep talks later, you find the courage and steadiness of hand to press the numbers given to you one-by-one. Your heart beats faster, and after two rings, someone answers. “Hi, is this the Smith residence?” Your one true love replies, “Is this some kind of prank? You’re the fourth person today who’s called asking for the Smiths!”
Betrayal! Anguish! Embarrassment! And … our first broken heart.
Broken hearts, full hearts and healthy hearts alike are the focus of many academic fields, professions and yes, even middle schoolers. Lovers know when their hearts are broken, doctors when the heart needs care and mothers what it feels like to live with their hearts outside of their bodies. The commonality between all of these interpretations of the heart is its central importance to the quality of our health and wellness. Hearts can elicit feelings of stress, grief and elation, and hearts can also be in distress on a physiological level. After all, hearts need love, too! Two instances where our hearts need some love are hypertension and high cholesterol. Both hypertension (high blood pressure) and high levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) put us at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. A very sad story, indeed!
The good news? We can learn how to “love up” our hearts and prevent or manage these conditions, and in turn, lower our risk for cardiovascular disease and events. In this blog post, we will explore three tips for loving our hearts healthy and starting our journey back to wellness.
‘My Heart Will Go On’: 3 Tips for Living Heart Healthy
1. Educate Ourselves
Knowing and understanding your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are half of the heart healthy equation. Learn more about your numbers by getting a biometrics screening and then asking your physician, pharmacist or medical staff what your numbers mean. The Center for Healthy Living (CHL) pm Purdue’s West Lafayette campus provides biometric lab screenings at no cost to benefits-eligible Purdue employees and dependents covered on a Purdue health plan while also earning you an HSA or HFA incentive. At the CHL, you can also meet one-on-one with a dietitian to learn how to lower your numbers through heart healthy nutrition and lifestyle changes. Health Coaches at the CHL can also act as an accountability partner and help you implement lifestyle changes in a highly individualized manner. In addition to knowing your numbers, asking questions and finding one-on-one support, is the good ole’ Internet. Credible websites such as The American Heart Association or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can also be helpful for learning more about these conditions and knowing the recommendations for lowering numbers and gaining heart health.
2. Set Goals
Setting goals can help us become excited about the future and grow in a positive direction. In our last blog post, “The New Year’s Comeback Resolution,” we advocate for setting small, manageable goals, being flexible and being gentle with ourselves throughout the process. Setting small, manageable goals within our larger goal helps us create sustainable wellness through a series of milestones and healthy habits. A flexible approach for achieving our larger goal and the ability to reassess our smaller milestones can mean the difference between success and failure. When we are flexible in our approach, we take on a solutions-based attitude towards meeting our goals by abandoning what doesn’t work, sticking to what does and brainstorming new strategies. For example, if a particular strategy or smaller goal is not jiving in our lives, then we can readjust instead of give up out of frustration and self-judgment. The final component, “being gentle,” helps us honor the fact that we are human and will not always be “perfectly healthy.” If we do slip-up, we can get back on track and honor our humanity by forgiving ourselves swiftly.
3. Spread the Love
Some people say that stressed is “desserts” spelled backwards, which precisely demonstrates why stress has an effect on our health. According to the American Heart Association, stress in our lives can increase the likelihood that we will engage in behaviors that are damaging to our hearts such as smoking, physical inactivity and overeating. If stress causes you to engage in any of these behaviors, then it may be time to amp up your stress management repertoire.
Lucky for us, this week is Random Acts of Kindness Week, and kindness lowers stress! Emory University studied this phenomenon known as “helper’s high,”and discovered that when you commit an act of kindness your brain’s pleasure center lights up as if you were the receiver of the kindness, not the giver. In essence, kindness towards others translates to kindness towards ourselves! So this week, and as a lifestyle change/goal, engage in acts of kindness such as sending an encouraging email to a coworker, giving away your parking spot or educating your family and friends about heart health. And, if you were the cool kid in middle school who duped a fellow classmate, it would be most kind to write an apology letter! Another important form of kindness is being kind to ourselves. We can be kind to ourselves and inspire others to do the same by drinking more water, judging ourselves less and setting goals for ourselves. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Be kind, spread the love and ignite the contagious nature of kindness.
Blog post written by Katie, a member of the One to One Wellness Health Coaching Team at The Center for Healthy Living on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus.