Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Heart of the Matter: Increasingly, our community is taking heart health seriously.

Screenshot 2017-01-31 08.16.04The heart of a community is its good health.

When we’re healthy together, we can build businesses, learn new things, participate in activities, strengthen our community through volunteerism and so much more. Illness, on the other hand, prevents us from being productive. It impacts our ability to work, volunteer and be engaged.

One of the greatest assets to our collective good health is having a healthy heart. February is National Heart Month, and it’s a great way to bring awareness to our hearts and keeping our hearts healthy. Sadly, heart disease is still the number-one reason both men and women die in the United States.

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease we face. Many people with the disease feel chest pain and discomfort in the early stages. For other people, the first sign is a heart attack. Long before we get to that stage, there are things we can do to lower our risk for coronary artery disease.

One of the easiest ways to improve your heart health is being aware of how important your heart is to feeling good and living a quality life. If you’re in constant pain or discomfort, odds are you are not going to be active in your community or productive at work. If you have any concerns about your heart or how you’re feeling, always check in with a doctor. Any illness or disease is always better managed when it’s caught early.

Like reducing the risk for many other diseases, the secret to having a healthy heart is no secret: eat a balanced, healthy diet, exercise and make better lifestyle choices. These choices include avoiding tobacco use and secondhand smoke and drinking in moderation (or avoiding alcohol entirely).

If you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, ask your doctor if you need to limit exercise. However, for most people, even those with moderate heart disease, walking is a great form of exercise. It’s easy on the joints and can be as easy or challenging as you wish. Regular moderate exercise has been shown to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and other risks for heart disease.

Plus, walking is available to everyone in our community. Many organizations, including PinnacleHealth’s West Shore campus, offer walking trails on their premises. In central PA, we have access to City Island, Front Street and beautiful parks that offer enjoyable walks. If you have a dog, he or she would certainly appreciate a stroll to get exercise and also enjoy some mental stimulation.

Walking is also a great way to give back to the community. Throughout the year, many charitable organizations sponsor walks to raise money for their worthy causes. An organized walk is a fun way to stay motivated and get family and friends involved.

Going for a walk is an option no matter what the weather holds. If you have a gym membership, a treadmill is a great way to keep walking. As treadmill technology improves, many are including tools to provide interest and keep you motivated, like screens that simulate beautiful scenery. If you don’t have access to a treadmill, many local malls open early to allow people to go for a walk out of the elements.

Add good food choices to exercise to really help your heart. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are staples in a healthy diet. As a community, we are starting to do a better job in making healthier options available.

We are lucky to have several farmers markets in our area that offer fresh produce in season, which makes it more affordable. Frozen vegetables and fruits are also nutritious options.

If you’re not sure how to shop or how to prepare healthy food, check with your local grocery store, hospital, community center or food pantry. Many offer healthy shopping tours, free or reduced-cost healthy cooking classes, and instruction on making healthier food choices.

As we celebrate American Heart Month, I encourage you to talk with family, neighbors and friends about improving heart health. Work together for ideas on exercise, better eating and keeping one another motivated. Many free and low-cost activities will be available to commemorate Heart Month, so take advantage of them to jumpstart your pursuit of a healthy heart. Together, we can build better health and create the foundation for a vibrant, productive community.  

Michael A. Young is president and CEO of PinnacleHealth System, one of TheBurg’s community publishers.

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