Your Little Engine!

February 05, 2018

It is early January, it is around nine degrees outside and I am settled in front of my computer to decide what to say in a February newsletter article.  February? January has just begun and my brain has just finished focusing on taking the Christmas decorations down, carefully packing them away and storing them for next year. Looking around the room I spy one small ornament on a shelf that obviously has been overlooked in my gathering. This ornament, a small train engine, piques my interest and suddenly seems to relate to what I want to write about, “Heart Month!” In the children’s Little Golden Book, The Little Engine That Could, it was with a lot of encouragement and effort that the little engine was able to pull several box cars full of toys over a mountain to take gifts to children in the valley below. This story delivers a message to small children as it speaks to perseverance, endurance, strength, and effort that the engine made to get the toys delivered as well as the joy that the village people felt when the engine arrived on the other side of the mountain.

Our February messages about hearts are similar to the story of the little engine. Valentine’s Day tugs at our heart strings and our dollars with our efforts to put our best foot forward to make those significant in our lives feel loved and appreciated. Just as Valentine’s Day is about love, choosing a lifestyle geared toward good health and prevention is also about love. It is the little engines, our hearts, which are often stressed the most when we do not fulfill our body’s expectations of a healthy lifestyle. This magnificent little engine beats on average 115,200 times a day to carry us over the mountains or wherever we want to go, that is if we are physically fit to do so as the Little Engine was able to do.

Last February the title of my newsletter article was “How is Your Heart? During the past year what have you done to make sure that your heart/little engine is working at its best?  How is your heart/little engine? 
1.   Are you aware of what you eat each day? Have you avoided chips, desserts and other nutrientlow foods in favor of super foods such as berries, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables that provide antioxidants, Omega-3 fats, vitamin and minerals and boasts to your immune system?
2.   Is your body weight where it should be? Long term extra weight on your body can cause a multitude of heart and other body system problems. 
3.     Have you had your flu shot this year?  If not, it is not too late to get your flu shot as the flu can hang around until May. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that if you do get the flu you are more likely to recover faster if you had a flu shot.
4.    Are you getting enough sleep? According to a 2015 sleep study, individuals who sleep fewer than six hours a night are four times more likely to develop a cold than people who get seven hours or more.
5.    Have you made regular physical activity part of your lifestyle? A general rule is to aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Even brief bouts of activity offer health benefits. Strength training and aerobic activity both benefit your heart by controlling weight, reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and improving mental health and mood.
6.   Is life causing you to feel stressed?  Daily stress can cause us to overeat, eat the wrong foods, lose sleep, gain weight and ultimately lead to illness including heart disease.
7.    Do you follow the health guidelines for annual preventative health services? There is an ongoing debate regarding the need to see a physician annually for a physical exam. As the debate goes on, being proactive regarding your health can help to keep your engine fine-tuned.
8.    Have you found a place to volunteer? There are multiple ways to volunteer at your church and in the community. We think of volunteering as helping others, but it also can add mental and physical benefits for the volunteer. Volunteering activities get us moving and thinking at the same time by adding physical activity, increasing brain function and reducing stress. Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment and help to decrease the risk of depression.

Your heart/little engine has the potential for being a very efficient pump. Is your engine efficient or is there room for improvement in using perseverance, endurance and strength during Heart Month. By all means, give your little engine the opportunity to say, “I Thought I Could!” and function at its best so that it can carry you over the mountain in 2018 and beyond!

Armitage, Hanae, Lack of Sleep Puts You at Higher Risk for Colds, First 
        Experimental Study, September 1, 2015,, 2015.
Giving Back Helps Others - And You, Healthy Benefits of Volunteering,
Laskowski, Edward R. MD, How Much Should the Average Adult Exercise Every
        Day, Healthy Lifestyle, Fitness, Mayo Clinic, 2018,
The Little Engine That Could, A Little Golden Book Retold by Watty Piper,   
       Western Publishing Company, Inc, Racine, Wisconsin.   

Cornelia Pearson, RN, MN Chair
Health Ministries Task Force