Even before the full force of the economic downturn became part of the nightly news, the levels of stress Americans were feeling about our finances were pretty intense making heart healthy living more difficult.
The American Psychological Association completed a survey called Stress in America, released in October 2008 (with data collected as late as September, just as the stock market was heading downward) found a full 46% of us were already worried about providing for our families basic needs.
Money was a concern for 72%, work for 68%, housing for 47% and job insecurity by 34%.
What’s worse, more of us are reporting physical symptoms from all that stress compared to a year ago. The sleepless nights and a shorter fuse. The wrangling and worry are chipping away at our health.
At these unhealthy (and constant) stress levels, coupled with eating fat and calorie laden foods and dropping workout sessions to take on more hours at work, we’re all taking a pretty big chance with the health of one of our most vital organs – our heart.
What can you do to help yourself?
One of the first, best things you can do is to take better care of your body by eating a healthy diet that gives you the 5 servings of fruits and vegetables experts recommend we eat each day.
Cooking foods at home, instead of using prepared ones or eating out, can help you save money and give your body good-for-you basics at the same time.
Food closer to it’s natural state is almost always more affordable than a prepared alternative – think salad in a bag vs. the old fashioned head of lettuce, tomatoes, radishes and such. Convenience is expensive, and it isn’t always good for us.
But diet is only one part of the heart health picture.
You also need to know the risks your body has for heart disease.
– Do you have a family history of heart disease?
– What are your cholesterol numbers?
– Do you have low enough LDL (bad) cholesterol and high enough HDL (good) cholesterol?
– And what about your blood pressure, is it high or low?
Recognize too that the heart is a muscle, and like other muscles, to stay strong and healthy it must be exercised and exercised regularly. Even just half an hour of walking a day is a good start.
Almost as important, finding a way to manage your stress level is another key to keeping your heart healthy.
You need a positive outlet for all that nervous energy – rigorous workouts or cleaning, meditation or relaxation breathing, hobbies or laughter – all are great for reducing the stress in your life.
The American Psychological Association also offers some wonderful, common sense tips for managing your stress level during these uncertain economic times.
During times when money is tight, you might be tempted to put off your healthcare or cut your gym memberships.
But doing this hurts you more in the long run as you feel bad for longer than you have to, and end up spending more time and money getting yourself well (or in healthy shape) again.
If you’re having trouble affording your prescription medications, talk with your doctor.
Often the pharmaceutical companies have programs to help patients get the medicine they need at no cost, or the doctor might be able to supply samples to help you out.
Good heart health also comes, as we all know, from not smoking, and avoiding second hand smoke as much as possible.
Smoking, beyond the expense, greatly increases your risk of heart problems, as well as other dangerous diseases. Quitting now will start you on the road to reduced risk and saving some money too.
It’s easy to allow the bad news to take over and sabotage your health. The trick is to remember this isn’t the first time we’ve faced tough times, and it probably won’t be the last.
We may not be able to control what happens in the economy or the world around us, but we can control the toll it takes (or doesn’t take) on our heart and our health and ensure we stick to heart healthy living.