It is early January and I have 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 that obviously has been overlooked in my gathering. This ornament, a small train engine, piques my interest and suddenly seems to relate to my thoughts of a February Heart Month article. 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 simple message to small children and perhaps even to adults as it speaks of perseverance, endurance, strength, and effort that the engine made to get the toys delivered as well as the joy that the vil-lage 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 our little engines, our hearts, that 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 through and over the mountains of life as the Little Engine was physically able to do.
In the past, my February newsletter article has been titled “How is Your Heart?” Seriously, how is your heart/little engine? Are you doing what you need to do to make sure that your heart/little engine is working at its best? If you have not thought about the health of your heart/little engine recently, here are some questions for you to consider:
- Do you carefully consider what you eat each day? Do you routinely avoid eating chips, desserts and other nutrient low foods in favor of super foods such as berries, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables that provide antioxidants, Omega-3 fats, vitamins, minerals and boasts to your immune system?
- Is your weight/body mass index (BMI) where it should be? Long term extra weight on you body can cause a multitude of heart and other body system problems.
- Have you made regular physical activity part of your lifestyle? A most current guideline recommends adults getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensive physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity or an equivalent combination each week. 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.
- Is life causing you to feel stressed? Daily stress can cause us to overeat, eat the wrong foods, lose sleep, gain weight, have high blood pressure, and ultimately lead to a variety of illnesses including heart disease and cancer.
- 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.
- Do you follow the health guidelines for annual preventative health services? There is an ongoing debate regarding who needs to see a physician annually for a physical exam. As this debate goes on, being proactive regarding your own health can help you to keep your engine fine tuned.
- Have you had your flu vaccine this year? If not, it is not too late to get your flu vaccine! The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that if you do contract the flu you are more likely to recover faster if you have had a flu shot.
- Do you participate in God’s Work, Our Hands! through a favorite volunteer activity in your community? We think of volunteering as helping others but it also can add mental and physical benefits for the volunteer. Volunteer activities have the potential for getting us moving and thinking at the same time by adding physical activity, increasing brain function and reducing stress. It can also 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, strength or effort during Heart Month? By all means, give your little engine the opportunity to say, “I Thought I Could!” and function at it’s best so that it can carry you through and over the mountain in 2020 and beyond!
Armitage, Hanae, Lack of Sleep Puts You at Higher Risk for Colds, First Experimental Study,
September 1, 2015, www.sciencemag.org, 2015.
Giving Back Helps Others - And You, Healthy Benefits of Volunteering, createthegood.org.
Laskowski, Edward R. MD, How Much Should the Average Adult Exercise Every Day,
Healthy Lifestyle, Fitness, Mayo Clinic, 2018, mayoclinic.org.
The Little Engine That Could, A Little Golden Book, Retold by Watty Piper, Western Publishing
Company, Inc, Racine, Wisconsin, Seventh Printing, 1973.
Who Needs a Flu Vaccine and When, Flu Vaccine for 2019-2020, The Center for
Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov.
Cornelia Pearson, RN, MN
Member, St. Andrew Lutheran Church