February is American Heart Month. Normally I gloss over the details.  "Blah, blah, eat healthier, exercise, blah blah". But last Thursday, February 6th, American Heart Month hit very close to my family when my father-in-law had a serious heart attack. Grandpa Bruce is 74 years old and otherwise in fairly decent health. Sure, maybe he hasn't been as active as he was a decade ago, but honestly, who is?

Prior to his trip to the emergency room he had been mentioning to my wife and others that he just wasn't "feeling right" for the past week or so. Finally, he went into our little St. V's clinic in Laurel and the staff ran a couple of quick tests. They immediately knew he was having a heart attack and got him in the ambulance to Billings. They put a stent in his heart, followed by a pacemaker the next day when his heartbeat kept falling below 40 beats per minute. The normal range is like 60 - 130. He is doing much better now, and pending any setbacks is planning on coming home to recover in the next day or so.  My father-in-law now joins the 57,000 some people in Montana affected by heart disease. Please read my open letter below.

Credit: US Dept. of Health & Human Services

Dear Mr or Mrs I Don't Care About Heart Month,

I know you don't care about your heart health because neither did I. Most people don't, until it directly affects you or your life. Like most things, I suppose. But let me ask you this... are you ready to listen to your wife cry about the very real odds of her losing her parent? Or you? Are you cool with explaining to your kids or grandkids why their dad or mom or grandma or grandpa are gone too soon? 

I know it's tough to quit smoking. I know healthy food doesn't always taste as good as french fries or a bag of chips, and I know that exercise usually sucks, for me anyway. But you know what? Dying prematurely because of a heart attack is a lot suckier for the people that care about you.

I realize that there have been a few athletic type people who run or jog daily, eat zero fat and still get heart attacks. But don't be a fool and use those rare examples to trash your body. It's pretty dumb to justify bad habits by saying, "oh well, when it's time to go, it's time to go." If you are 85 years old, maybe.  If you are in your 30's - 60's, that just seems like a really ignorant and selfish way to think.

In closing, "Mr or Mrs I Don't Care About Heart Health"... you should care. Below are five ways to improve your heart health (used with permission) from the National Heart, Blood & Lung Institute. At least give it a glance. Your loved ones thank you in advance.

Sincerely,

Michael

5 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health

Consider these five tips that can help lower your risk of heart disease:

Risk: Inactivity

Solution: Move more throughout your day. Aim for at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity. Build up to activity that gets your heart beating faster and leaves you a little breathless. If you’re busy, try breaking your daily activity into 10-minute chunks.

Stay motivated: Make walking dates. Join a pickup soccer or basketball game. Join a fitness class with your neighbor. Grab a loved one and dance in your kitchen.

Risk: An unhealthy diet

Solution: Consider an option like NHLBI’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which is free and scientifically proven to lower high blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.

Stay motivated: Invite friends to cook up heart healthy recipes together. Start a lunch club at work and trade recipe ideas.

Risk: Smoking, even occasionally

Solution: Quitting can be beneficial to your overall health, even if you’ve smoked for years. Set a quit date and let those close to you know. If you’ve tried quitting in the past, consider what helped and what made it harder.

Stay motivated: Ask your family and friends for support or join a support group. Find resources and connect with a trained counselor at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or smokefree.gov.

Risk: Inadequate or poor-quality sleep

Solution: Sleeping 7-8 hours each night helps improve heart health. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Getting a 30-minute daily dose of sunlight may also improve sleep.

Stay motivated: Resist that late afternoon nap. Turn off all screens at a set time nightly. Relax by listening to music, reading or taking a bath.

Risk: Uncontrolled stress

Solution: To help manage stress, try relaxation therapy and increase physical activity. Talk to a qualified mental health provider or someone you trust. De-stressing may also help improve sleep.

Stay motivated: Join a friend or family member in a relaxing activity like walking, yoga or meditation every day.

Learn about heart health and heart healthy activities in your community at nhlbi.nih.gov/ourhearts. Use #OurHearts on social media to share how you and your friends, colleagues or family members are being heart healthy together.