**February is American Heart Health Month- to learn more about the occurrence of heart disease in women (symptoms and prevention), please visit http:/www.womenheart.org and http:/www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/HB00040
The pain of losing her husband, my father, to prostate cancer was a blow my mother was never able to process. My father was the center of my mothers universe, the reason for her being, when he passed away so did any expectation that she’d start taking care of her health. Her dysfunctional alliance with food escalated into a deadly race to consume as much sugar and fried foods she believed would soothe her grief. This toxic combination of sugar and fried foods, coupled with no exercise, created a perilous environment for maladies of all shapes and sizes to fester within her body.
In June 2011, my mother died of a heart attack. At the time of her death, my mother was obese and suffering from a multitude of health problems. Obesity, along with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, are the most frequently touted factors cited in the development of heart disease in men and women. My mother was part of the 75% of Hispanic women who are classified as overweight or obese (http://http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.womenheart.org/resource/resmgr/docs/women_and_heart_disease_fact.pdf). However, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure were not the only factors that contributed to my mother’s heart attack.
Less touted, but equally as troublesome in the development of heart disease, is mental stress and depression. For women, mental stress and depression plays a significantly larger and deadlier role in the development of heart disease than men (http://http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/HB00040). On average, more women than men suffer from heart disease. Heart disease is the #1 killer among women in America. It is estimated that 1 out of 3 women die annually of heart disease in the U.S.
When adding to these statistics the fact that my maternal grandmother also died of a heart attack, my decision to commit to a more heart health conscious existence ceases to be an unsavory chore. The stress of losing both of my parents and toiling away at a job I don’t like places me at risk to fall into the type of depression that for me can lead to junk food binges and endless bouts of crying. After my father died, I fell into a destructive loop of eating junk food and crying. Not only had I stopped exercising, my hair suffered significant breakage. Internally and externally, I was a wreck. Oddly, I did not think I was at a critical health juncture. It wasn’t until one of my younger brothers made a remark about the weight I gained that I took a serious look at where I was headed health wise. In that moment, I knew that I had to make a radical change.
From that day forward, I cut out a lot of the junk food I was consuming and exercise became an extension of my life, rather than something I did to fit into a specific outfit. It hasn’t all been perfect. Playing the role of bystander to my mother’s self-sabotage was more than enough to bring me back to the stress and depression levels that I was at when my father was dying of prostate cancer. But unlike when my father was dying of prostate cancer, I now had a mechanism to workout my angst and sadness. I was committed not to fall into the pit of despair and self-destruction that my mother was barreling straight towards. Sadly, you cannot save someone who does not want to be saved, but you can save yourself.
Physically, I feel stronger than I ever have in my life! Stress and depression still cross my path, and unfortunately I am still at the job I don’t like, nonetheless, I fight like hell every day not to let those factors drag me down. Some days are better than others, but I’m committed to end the deadly cycle of heart disease among the women in my family.
What steps do you take to increase your heart health?