Earlier this year, President Obama declared February "American Heart Month". The declaration reads: “cardiovascular disease — including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure — is responsible for one out of every three deaths. It is the No. 1 killer of American women and men, and it is a leading cause of serious illness and disability.” He goes on to expound the benefits of healthy eating, regular exercise and not smoking.
Nothing new here, really.
When I quit my 20+ year pack-a-day smoking habit, the cost was a factor. But what made me finally kick the cigarettes was a realization that I was polluting my body. Worse yet, I gained no benefit besides the cessation of the urge to smoke for another half an hour. How could I continue to inhale toxins when my Return on Investment (ROI) was negligible? Once I drew that line in the sand, quitting was easy. Quitting actually WAS easy. To paraphrase Harris Dickson: "Quitting is easy, I've done it a thousand times."
That is not to say I was instantly heart healthy. My diet remained poor and my lifestyle lacked exertion out of principle. As I navigated mid-life, I began to lose a step here and there. I lost my breath skiing, couldn't hike a steep hill without rest, etc. My diet improved tremendously when I met Twirly. She got me off of fast food and into eating whole foods regularly. Yet still my health remained poor.
When she finally convinced me to move my ass off the couch, I chose running. I admit, it scared the hell out of me. Once I began, my ego took hold, and I set off on this journey of self improvement. I know myself well enough to recognize that my eagerness to improve would result in serious injury if left unchecked. Enter the heart rate monitor.
At first, I just wanted to know if I was having a heart attack or it just felt that way. Now, I consider my heart rate monitor my most valuable training resource. I track every workout by zone and time, the product of which is a numerical score which I can use to evaluate my effort. Using this "TRIMP" score allows me to compare a gym workout with a mountain trail workout and ensure that I get enough rest. I also use it to hold myself accountable for the hard workouts. Check out my posts here and here for more information on TRIMP.
A final tool for heart health which I use regularly is the annual physical and blood panel. I play with my diet so much that I am concerned about cholesterol levels and muscle damage. My results remain steady year after year, and my doctor tells me everything looks normal. At Western States last year, I participated in cardiovascular research which included pre and post race ECG's and blood work. So far, the data all indicates I am heart healthy.
Health is a primary motivator in my running and racing. It is difficult to get a better ROI than aerobic exercise like running. Add to that the fact that it can take so many forms: trail running, road marathons, community 5k's, treadmill workouts, they all provide a different spin on the same activity. I'll be running for as long as my heart and legs will carry me. I'm willing to wager my heart outlasts the wheels.
I was inspired by the American Recall Center to discuss heart health. Below are some tips to jump start your own heart health, and be sure to check out how other bloggers are celebrating their hearts in honor of this month here.