Op-Ed | Heart health begins with self-care: A prescription for wellness

Eleonora Gashi-Baraliu.
Eleonora Gashi-Baraliu.
Photo provided

Heart disease continues to claim more lives than any other ailment in the United States. Despite this sobering reality, awareness regarding cardiovascular health, particularly among women, remains shockingly low. February, designated as the American Heart Month, coincides with Valentine’s Day — a celebration of love and self-care. This convergence serves as a poignant reminder that caring of one’s heart is an act of self-love.

The statistics surrounding heart disease are staggering. Every 34 seconds, someone in the U.S. succumbs to cardiovascular disease, highlighting the urgent need for preventative measures. The INTERHEART study identified nine modifiable risk factors that account for over 90% of heart attack occurrences globally. These factors range from lifestyle choices such as smoking and diet to psychosocial elements/stress. In essence, empowering individuals with the knowledge and the tools to address these risk factors lays the foundation for cardiac resilience.

Crucially, the presentation of cardiovascular disease often differs between genders, with women experiencing subtler symptoms that can be easily dismissed. The prevalence of broken heart syndrome (stress induced cardiomyopathy) among women serves as a poignant reminder of the intricate relationship between emotional well-being and cardiac health. It’s imperative to recognize and address the unique stressors and risk factors that affect women’s cardiovascular health, particularly post-menopause when protective effects from estrogen diminish.

To combat the pervasive impact of heart disease, embracing self-care practices becomes paramount. The American Heart Association’s Lifestyle 8 provides a comprehensive framework for improving cardiovascular health, emphasizing behavioral changes alongside traditional risk factor management. These measures include dietary improvements, regular physical activity, tobacco cessation, adequate sleep, weight management, cholesterol control, blood sugar regulation and blood pressure management.

Furthermore, self-care is not a luxury but a necessity, especially in today’s fast-paced world characterized by constant demands and pressures. Self-care encompasses nurturing our minds, bodies, and souls — it involves prioritizing mental health, managing stress effectively, fostering meaningful connections, and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment. By prioritizing self-care, individuals can mitigate the risk factors associated with heart disease while enhancing overall well-being.

In conclusion, the path to a healthy heart begins with self-care. By fostering awareness, addressing modifiable risk factors, and embracing holistic wellness practices, individuals can chart a course towards cardiac resilience. As we navigate American Heart Month and beyond, let us heed the call to prioritize self-care as the ultimate prescription for heart health, one day at a time, one healthy meal at a time, one step at a time.

Heart care equals self-care.

Eleonora Gashi-Baraliu speacilizes in cardiovascular disease, cardiology, interventional cardiology and internal medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Jacobi in the Bronx. 

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