• Judith Wallace

February is Heart Month

February is widely known as “Heart Month”. How’s your heart? Is it physically healthy?

All of us need to be aware of how to protect ourselves from heart disease. For both men and women, the biggest factors that contribute to heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history and age. Take a moment to consider your lifestyle, family history and your general health. With this information, you and your doctor can assess your risk and make a plan to avoid potential problems. Although you can't change your family history or your age, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid many of the other risk factors (see below). Don’t smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Women who smoke and use birth control pills increase their risk even more. More than half of the heart attacks in women under 50 are related to smoking. If you stop smoking, you can lower your risk of heart attack by one third within 2 years.

Control your blood pressure. Treating high blood pressure can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. A healthy diet, losing weight and exercising regularly are all ways to help control high blood pressure. Reducing how much salt you consume can also help. If these steps don't lower your blood pressure, your doctor may recommend medicine for you to take. Control your cholesterol level. If you don't know your level, ask your doctor to check it. Healthy diet is a key part of lowering high cholesterol levels. However, some people may need to take medicine in addition to improving their diet and exercise. Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts strain on your heart and arteries. Exercise and a low-fat diet can help you lose weight. Being overweight means you have a higher risk for many other health problems, especially diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. If you're overweight, talk to your doctor about a safe and effective way to lose weight. Exercise regularly. Remember, your heart is a muscle. It needs regular exercise to stay in shape. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, jogging or cycling, gives your heart the best workout. You can also use fitness equipment like exercise bicycles, treadmills and ski machines when exercising indoors. Aim to exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Take care of your diabetes. If you have diabetes, regular exercise, weight control, a low-fat diet and regular doctor visits are important. If you need to take medicine for diabetes, be sure to take it exactly as your doctor tells you to. Be aware of chest pain. Be sure to contact your doctor immediately if you suffer from pain in your chest, shoulder, neck or jaw. Also notify your doctor if you experience shortness of breath or nausea that comes on quickly. If you are having a heart attack, the faster you can get to the hospital, the less damage will happen to your heart. Every second counts.

All of the above actions help to maintain a physically healthy heart, but how is the spiritual condition of your heart?

The heart’s spiritual condition is directly related to the thoughts and attitudes we allow into it. The spiritual heart is the deepest part of our being. The spiritual condition of the heart depends on what we invite into it. First and most important is our relationship with the Lord. If we’ve accepted Christ then the Holy Spirit resides in the heart. But our spiritual heart condition also depends on what else we allow to reside in our hearts…things like attitudes, thoughts, opinions, desires. All of these things shape the deepest part of our being, and if we allow it, the Holy Spirit will develop our attitudes and thoughts to become more like Christ, resulting in a healthy spiritual heart. No matter what circumstances we go through, if the inside of the heart is right, we are going to be okay.

But if we ignore our wrong attitudes, wrong relationships, wrong behaviors, those things become deeply rooted in our spiritual hearts…causing spiritual heart disease. As Christians we need to do a “spiritual heart check” more frequently than the once-a-year physical check-up. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Notice that the Bible puts that responsibility on us as individuals. No one else can guard our hearts…it’s our responsibility, and it’s a full-time job! It requires that we stay constantly connected to the Holy Spirit in order to have a healthy heart.

In this new year, take care of your heart. Be Well!

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