Oh the heart. So much ado about it during the month of love. Chiefly though, you want it healthy.
Heart-related incidents accounted for almost a third of critical illness claims from 2012 to 2016, at Unum, one of the world’s largest workplace disability insurers. That makes heart-related incidents second only to cancer among the most frequent condition for claims, according to the Tennessee-based company. The highest percentage of those claims came from adults, 50 to 59 years old, 63 percent male, 37 percent female.
In other words, your heart matters. Some things about its health are in your control, and – like the rest of life – some things aren’t.
A quiet condition that can considerably increase the odds of dying from a heart attack or stroke recently earned headlines. Apparently even if you have it – and plenty apparently do – there’s not much you can do about it, in and of itself, to help your heart.
The condition, which involves somatic mutations, appears to be rare in folks under 40, but becomes more prevalent in later years, according to a key study in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study, published in December 2014, showed the condition in 9.5% of subjects 70 to 79, 11.7% of subjects 80 to 89 and 18.4% in those 90 to 108.
But clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential, “CHIP” for short, isn’t reason to abandon practices that help your ticker. The American Heart Association still stresses inveterate good-for-you habits to fend off heart conditions and strokes: exercising, eating healthfully, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, and not smoking. It’s worth noting that somatic mutations are often caused by environmental factors – meaning, not inherited – so it stands to reason that your habits could matter.
Heart health is also about happiness. In other words, chronic excessive stress and woes won’t do your heart any good (it also could raise your blood pressure to epic heights and lead you to eat recklessly, raising your cholesterol).
So instead of zooming in on a condition that appears to inevitably be more likely with age, here are two things you can do to help your heart.
Take a break
A big break – a.k.a. a vacation – is better than a small break. But take a break from your workplace pace however you can. It’s a no-brainer that breaks and vacations are relaxing.
“Americans don’t do this well,” says Susan Lalemand, a registered nurse, health educator and health and wellness coach with Unum. “We don’t know how to take time off and not be productive. We always feel like we need to get more done, and we have lists, and we check them off and do them, and somehow that makes us feel better about our lives.”
Create one new positive pattern
Take steps toward creating one new way of being that in some way touches on the heart association’s recommendations. Your new thing might be as simple as walking 10 minutes more each day. It might be learning about heart-healthy eating and setting a three-month timeline to incorporate more of it in your life. It might be taking a few deep breaths when you get frustrated instead of reacting in an unproductive way.