As many of you know, I’ve been working to take care of my finances and improve my health. I was so inspired by my friend Jennifer’s story, that I asked her to share her experience in a guest post today. All of the money-saving tips in the world don’t mean a thing if you aren’t in good health. Start taking care of yourself now.
The following is written by Jennifer Thorson of My Life, in Red.
They say people don’t really change, all those resolutions and vows to exercise more, save money, and conquer clutter aside. But people can change, if they have to.
Seven months ago I had a heart attack. For real. I’m 37, a woman, and a distance runner. I was training for the Twin Cities marathon. In fact, I’d run 17 miles just three days before I found myself in the ICU, being prepped for surgery.
That may seem surprising; it certainly was to me. But now I know a bit more about heart disease and women.
I know, for example, that heart disease is the number one killer of women in this country. Number. One. It kills more women than the next four diseases combined, including all forms of cancer.
But it didn’t kill me. And it definitely made me stronger.
I spent just four days in the hospital and eight weeks in outpatient cardiac rehab. I met with nutritionists and cardiologists and exercise physiologists. I bought books and cookbooks, and joined the American Heart Association and WomenHeart online communities. I found new recipes for my family and stopped eating butter, cream, cheese, and high-fat meats and haven’t had a bite since. Then I started a blog to keep track of it all.
If there’s one thing that will motivate a person to change, it is staring down your own mortality and winning, at least for now. I have learned that least 80% of all cardiac events could have been prevented through better lifestyle choices. And that’s empowering. It means there’s something I can do about it: Heart disease is actually largely preventable.
The biggest risk factors for heart disease are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, smoking, and family history. The best way to improve your cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, and lose weight (to prevent diabetes) is to eat well and exercise. It goes without saying that you should not smoke. And if you have family history (as I do), then it’s even more important to avoid all the other risk factors.
It isn’t hard, and it isn’t expensive either. The best exercise for a healthy heart involves nothing more than a pair of walking or running shoes. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. (Most means most, not three.) Riding bike with your kids, walking your dog, or shoveling counts too, but make sure you get your heart rate up. Breaking a sweat means building your heart. I exercise five times per week now, a combination of running, circuit training, and yoga. I have every intention of completing that marathon next year.
I also made some changes to our family diet and menus. I do splurge on organic frozen berries for daily smoothies, but I make granola from scratch (easy and delicious), and cook all my beans from dried (you can do this in a Crock Pot; who knew?). We eat tofu about once per week, a delicious and particularly heart-healthy protein that also economical, and I substitute ground turkey for almost any recipe that calls for beef, again for less cost. We eat vegetarian 1-2 days per week, and we avoid processed foods as there is absolutely no place for trans fats in a heart healthy diet.
If you’ve never thought about your heart health, because you assumed you are too young, or it’s a man’s disease, or no one in your family has ever had a heart attack, please take some time this month (February is American Heart Month) to learn more about it and assess your own personal risk. Talk to your doctor about your family history. Ask to have a lipid profile so you know your cholesterol numbers. You can take steps to protect yourself and your family.
Jennifer Thorson is a marathon mom on a mission. She works to raise awareness of women and heart disease. Read more at My Life, in Red.