Celebrate Heart Month

Maureen Deutermann Features

This is the sixth in a series of articles from HNP’s Wellness Committee. The author is a director of community education at Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, Va. Further information about the committee and about health concerns is available through chair J. Patrick Kelly at 201-280-7644 and member Sr. Vicki Masterpaul at 716-373-0200, ext. 3304.  

While February might be anticipated by some as an opportunity to dive headfirst into a heart-shaped Godiva box, February is also Heart Month — time to improve the health of our physical hearts.

We’ve all heard it before. Exercise more, eat less fat, eat more fruits and veggies…fiber is great, trans fats are lousy…blah blah blah.  Wouldn’t it be nice if our quest for health could be more fun?  With that in mind, here are some suggestions for celebrating heart month, on the “lite” side:

1. Try a different ethnic cuisine.  While the Mediterranean Diet has been touted lately, and, by the way, French women don’t get fat (wonder if that equally applies to French men?)  neither culture has a monopoly on the ethnic health scene. Recently, a friend of mine suggested we dine at an Indian restaurant.  I surmised it would have healthy offerings as this particular friend is a vegan…a hard-core vegetarian. The only thing that sways her from her resolve is my hot artichoke dip…but I digress.

Sure enough, the menu had a wide variety of vegetarian as well as meat selections. My lamb and spinach dish was delightful…and how did they get the rice so light and fluffy?  I learned that Indian cuisine, aside from being largely vegetarian, boasts other health benefits.  Vegetable based oils are used in cooking, hence no cholesterol and minimal saturated fat in the oils. Foods are freshly made, meaning little processing and no MSG. Meats and kebobs are cooked in a Tandoor, a clay oven constructed so fats drip straight down off the meats. While no cuisine is guaranteed to be perfectly healthy, (watch your portions on that fluffy rice and lovely flatbread, naan), Indian food has a plethora of healthy options. Bonus points: the food was wonderful, the spices different and delectable.

2. Get out of a rut.  Particularly, exercise. Perhaps you hate exercise because you haven’t found the routine that’s fun for you.  After a lifetime of forcing myself through workout videos at home, my personal trainer friend brought me kicking and screaming to her gym. Surprisingly, I’m hooked…not so much on the classes (my attempt at a class called “Body Flow” was anything but “flowing,” believe me!), but on the state-of-the-art cardio equipment. Give me a magazine, a television and headphones and I can almost forget I’m on the elliptical torture…er… trainer! Bonus points:  After the gym, you can go home and relax guilt-free.  Gym’s not your thing?  That’s ok!  Just find something…anything that’s pleasant enough to propel you off the couch for at least 30 minutes most days.

3. Purposefully practice acts of human kindness. In the classic movie, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) prayed for an improbable miracle: that a crabby curmudgeon named Horace P. Bogardus would donate his new building to replace their decrepit school. It was actually Fr. O’Malley (Bing Crosby) who persuaded the old geezer to come through. How? It seems Horace had a bad heart. O’Malley convinced him that doing good would be good for his heart. It turns out Fr. O’Malley wasn’t just spewing Irish blarney.

Acts of kindness result in a “helper’s high”; a release of endorphins, the body’s natural tranquilizer and pain reliever. This immediate high is followed by long-term emotional effects which reduce stress. Unchecked stress is definitely detrimental to our hearts. Bonus points: while benefiting yourself, you are also helping others.

A healthy heart doesn’t have to mean drudgery. Spice it up, literally and figuratively, and have fun!