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Take a Walk: American Heart Month, for Nurses and Everyone Else

February 3, 2014

By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

By Eric Hunt/via Wikimedia Commons

By Eric Hunt/via Wikimedia Commons

So we all know what we need to do to prevent heart disease: eat a healthy diet (such as the highly touted Mediterranean diet, which has been “consistently effective with regard to cardiovascular risk”), get regular exercise, and don’t smoke. But most of us—and I’m guilty—don’t quite follow the advice we may give our patients or family members. It’s difficult to carve out time for oneself in addition to working all day (and for most nurses, we’re not talking a nine to five day—many work 12-hour shifts, or at least a 10-hour day if in administrative positions), plus commuting and then spending time with family. If you have school-age children in activities, there are also car pools and homework.

We need to find 30 minutes—or even 20 minutes—daily to jump-start our own engines. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, heart disease kills one in four women and is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States. And while genetics certainly plays a part, cardiovascular health is mostly about prevention. So make a 30-minute appointment with yourself and stick to it.

The American Heart Association (AHA) initiative highlighting heart disease in February is a good reminder to us all, especially in the harsh winter weather when it can be so much nicer to stay indoors. The AHA has designated Friday, February 7, as “National Wear Red Day” in order to raise awareness of heart disease in women.

I know some people who religiously go for a walk or run as soon as they get home from work. Others I know get up a half hour earlier to exercise. I walk on the treadmill while I watch the news, but rarely manage to do so every day of the week. So I forgive myself and start again. I have to—my parents and grandparents all died from heart disease and my siblings and I have other risk factors, such as hypertension or elevated cholesterol levels.

The good news, as reported by the New York Times last week in an article discussing a new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, is that it’s never too late to start: “becoming physically active in middle age, even if someone has been sedentary for years, substantially reduces the likelihood that he or she will become seriously ill or physically disabled in retirement.”

So if you’re reading this sitting down, stand up! Take a break from your computer—walk around the block, take the dog for a walk, walk up and down some stairs, hit the treadmill. Eat some nuts or an apple instead of the cookies—or maybe only have one cookie. Your heart is in your hands.

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