Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's the Heart that Matters

If one was to list the most vital organs of the body, the heart is in the top two.  Your brain projects your mind and embodies your spirit; without it you couldn't list anything.  If your heart is not number one, your body's engine, which literally pumps life throughout the body, is 1a.  A healthy heart is essential for living a healthy life.

As February is National Heart Month, it is appropriate to take a moment and reflect on how lifestyle affects heart health.  Awareness of heart health is especially important for younger people, like myself, who are settling into day-to-day routines and habits that may determine the heart's fate.

It is natural that the young doesn't contemplate their life's end, feeling that life is ever upward and forward; it's an irony in life that if they were given prospective, they might adopt practices that could very well extend their healthy years.   But this requires awareness.

Every family has a unique set of history and genes, and being mindful of acute maladies common within a family can be predictive of what you're more likely to suffer from.  This knowledge allows you to plot a path that will stymie what is preventable, and detect and arrest early the unavoidable.

I happen to have heart disease in recent family history, on both my mother's and father's sides.  My mother's mother--my Nana--has Prinzmetal's angina, a type of coronary artery disease that is an early stage of congestive heart failure.  Just hearing the term "failure" made me fear that it was a death sentence and that Nana was terminally ill; but she has set a wonderful example of brave dignity in controlling her condition, showing that one is able to live a nearly normal life with heart disease.

My father's father died at the too young age of 56, from a massive heart attack.  His wife--my Mamaw--defiantly independent despite being blind and increasingly deaf, has lived alone for over 30 years since his death.  Alas, if circumstances were different, imagine all the life he might have led in the three decades lost! 

Papaw, as I'm told was his familial nickname, died four years before my birth.  I've also been told that Charles Dickens was called "Boz" by his family, and I sometimes reflect that these two nicknames have about the same weight in my life--the names just being two bits of remembered factoids--and I regret never having known the man.

It is not because of my Nana and my Grandfather, but for them that I make a lifelong commitment to healthy heart practices.  They're victims of their times.  They lived at a time where pigs were breed to yield lard as well as pork, and it was cooked into most meals.  America was (and is still) a car culture, and living in a rural hamlet (both lived in Sabina, Ohio) meant that they drove everywhere. 

It was a time of ignorance, when doctors endorsed cigarettes.  My Grandfather was a smoker, Nana lived with a smokers all her life.  The whole generation following the Great War was said to be "lost," to the fruitless self-medication of alcohol abuse.  Indeed, society tolerated drinking amongst teenagers, and even treated drunk driving as an unserious infraction against the community's laws and safety.

Unfortunately though it was garnered at the expense of my grandparents' health, it is I who benefits from the wisdom Modernity has gained.  Nutrition was taught and re-taught to me throughout primary and secondary schools.  With that knowledge and readily available resources on the internet, I have more information on healthful foods than a nutritional expert a generation ago.   Today's commercial product distribution makes it possible to have healthy foods from faraway lands--like bananas from Belize--in isolated, snow-laden communities--like Sabina in February--for a reasonably low price.

This is a time in which there are many gyms in most neighborhoods (But only one Five Seasons in Cincinnati!).  Through public awareness campaigns and punitive taxation, smokers comprise a fraction of their numbers in generations past.  Authorities muttering phrases like "Parents who host lose the most," have cracked down on underage drinking.  Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have lobbied to make driving under the influence a serious criminal offence, and the releasing of mug shots and dashboard videos of offenders has helped to dissuade like behavior. 

I find that the whole rigmarole of social drinking--finding, by hook or by crook, a designated driver; shelling out for lodging or livery vehicle; or, God-forbid, crashing on some of the world's most uncomfortable surfaces--makes me drink less.  And that's good for my heart.

And that's good for my health.  The myriad of changes and reforms in just two generations have empowered individuals to know what they need to do in order to prevent heart disease and the means by which to do it. 

With this awareness, I can see that the table is fully set and that the gym has been professionally prepared; starting this February--American Heart Month--and forever after, I just need to eat the healthful foods and complete the body-redeeming workout, and I will [touch wood] inhabit this wonderful Modernity for as long as possible.  We'll see how 
it goes. . .