How is your heart like a box of chocolates? It’s red, it’s full of love and it’s best when shared with others. In researching this article, I found several chocolate-related quotes from the famous author, Anonymous, and his younger brother, Google. In a diet related quote: “The four basic food groups are milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and chocolate truffles.” Regarding exercise, the 12-Step Chocoholic Program advises “Never be more than 12-Steps away from chocolate.” There is also a theory that “. . . chocolate slows down the aging process—it may not be true—but do you dare take the chance?” Finally, in the words of Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
There’s something else that hearts and chocolates have in common, especially this month. February is heart month. Hearts are everywhere. Look around and you will see red. Big heart-shaped boxes, little heart-shaped cards, and little red dress lapel pins, the American Heart Association’s symbol of women and heart disease and its “Go Red for Women” campaign, helping to spread awareness that women have heart disease, too, more now than ever.
Why is that? The risk factors for developing coronary artery disease (CAD) are well-known and are the same for women and men. They include smoking, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, stress, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and saturated fat in the diet, and a family history of heart disease. Know your risks whether you are a woman or a man. Look out for yourselves. Be your own advocate. Take charge, listen to your body, and be good to your heart. Perhaps there’s more truth to opening that box of chocolates: when it comes to your family history, you never know what you’re “gonna” get, but you can change some of the other things that can help you have a healthier heart. If you smoke, work towards stopping. If you don’t exercise, work towards starting. Aim for a goal of 30- minutes a day, most days of the week. If you have diabetes, be as concerned about your heart as you are about your blood sugar . . . and yes, there is sugar free chocolate out there!
As a cardiac rehabilitation nurse, I work with men and women who are recovering from heart attacks, heart surgery, and other forms of heart disease. While they all share similar risk factors, women can sometimes have symptoms that are different than the “classic” symptoms which can include chest pain, pain in the jaw, and in one or both arms. Women are often faced with the subtler symptoms of fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion, anxiety and a sense that something is wrong. “Taking things to heart” has become one of the major risk factors adding to the stress of life for both men and women. Until recently, heart disease has been thought of primarily as a man’s disease. Awareness is growing thanks to the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” program.
So go out and be like a box of chocolates. “Go Red for Women,” fill your heart with love, eat chocolate once in awhile and share it with a friend. Eat well and take steps (more than twelve) to exercise regularly. And, yes, it might even slow down the aging process because your heart will be healthier, you’ll feel better and you’ll be able to do more of the things that you love to do. You may not know what you’re “gonna” get but you’ll have a better chance of getting it if you’re healthier. Take heart and take action. Have a “Happy Heart Month” and a Happy Valentine’s Day!
Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM