One From the Heart – February is American Heart Month

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Image Source: Flickr

I’ll be the first to admit it. I get stressed.

Stress affects our health in many ways, but heart disease is a common result in the United States, particularly among women. As a woman, this is a stressor in itself. Worries and perfectionism aside, what are some simple, everyday ways you and I can decrease our stress and be kind to our hearts?

A plant-heavy or plant-based diet is a wonderfully heart-healthy eating plan. Personally, I switched from a vegetarian to a vegan diet 2 years ago, and everything I continue to learn about its health benefits encourages me to keep at it. Avocado and olive oil are my favorite plant-based ways to lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol while leaving heart levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol intact.

Image Source: Flickr

Image Source: Flickr

Hobbies that include movement are a low-stress way to get your heart pumping stronger. Dance class (or dancing around the house), gardening, vigorous cleaning and yoga or stretching are some relatively low-impact and low-cost ways to get your circulation up and flex your heart muscle.

But what about the mental stress? It’s the biggest factor in many of our busy lives. Mindfulness meditation is one way to change your mindset and even regulate the rhythm of your heart. Look for a zen or yoga center in your area for more information. Lucky for me, San Francisco is home to a beautiful Zen Center that hosts a variety of programs, classes and retreats.

My personal favorite fact about preventative heart health? Doing good for others lowers your stress levels.

This is something we can all do anytime and it doesn’t have to cost money – sharing time is just as valuable.

Image Source: Flickr:

Image Source: Flickr

If you’d like to find volunteer opportunities in your area, you can use our Act Locally search option and contact local charities to see how you can help. Bonus points on volunteering: It gets you outside – and being in nature is another great de-stressor.Even if you live in a city, you can likely find an urban gardening project to volunteer your time. Check out The National Gardening Association’s Kids Gardening program, which empowers every generation to lead healthier lives, build stronger communities, and encourage environmental stewardship through gardening programs.

If you’d like to support their efforts:

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The most sobering fact I uncovered in my research: women are more prone to suffer from undiagnosed heart disease. Women’s symptoms tend to differ from men’s, and women are more likely to suffer a silent heart attack.

In fact, heart attacks are responsible for the loss of half a million women per year in the U.S. alone. Heart disease is the number one killer of women even though many women are more afraid of breast cancer.

Image Source: Flickr

Image Source: Flickr

I lost a friend and community member, far before her time, to silent heart disease. After her untimely passing a few years ago, another friend organized memorial donations in her honor to WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. It’s a charity that provides support and research and was started by three women who have personal experience with heart disease issues. Women Heart was the first – and is still the only – national patient-centered organization focused exclusively on women’s heart disease.

If you’d like to donate to help WomenHeart carry out its work:

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Education, information and advocacy are our greatest weapons against killer heart disease. Together, we can multiply our strengths in fighting the battle against heart disease with a unified front. We have to watch out for each other, right?

-Alex Mechanic

Customer Service Manager

Get involved in the fight for Alzheimer’s disease

blog_title_image_alzheimersTwo of my good friends have lost their mothers to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a heartbreaking experience. I watched as the women I knew disappeared into themselves and blankly became someone who didn’t recognize their own child.

One friend described it as losing her mother twice – once to Alzheimer’s and once to death. And it’s the ultimate role reversal: The parent who taught you how to tie your shoes now needs you to do it. That’s true for so many simple, everyday actions.

The sixth leading cause of death in the United States, flickr_ann_gordon_mom_handsAlzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Every 67 seconds, someone in the US develops the disease. Today, more than 5.2 million Americans are living with it.

Recent studies found low Vitamin D can double the risk of Alzheimer’s but didn’t show a direct cause and effect link. Why it strikes older adults is still a mystery, and scientists don’t yet understand what causes the disease. It’s most likely a mix of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

As the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s continues to soar (tripling to 16 million by 2050), it’s maddening there are no clear ways to slow or stop the progression of this life-robbing disease. It’s the only cause of death among the top 10 in America that can’t be cured.

What can we do?

Fund research and advocacy.

Here are three organizations making a difference through research and policy changes:

The Alzheimer’s Association, started in 1980, is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Committed to accelerating the progress of new treatments, preventions and ultimately, finding a cure, the association reaches millions of people affected by the disease across the globe. If you’d like to support Alzheimer’s Association and get some exercise at the same time, join one of the Fall Walks to End Alzheimer’s. Find one in your area here.

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BrightFocus Foundation supports research and provides public education to eradicate brain and eye diseases, including Alzheimer’s. The foundation awards research money annually to fund highly innovative, experimental ideas it believes will lead to revolutionary therapies.

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The Alliance for Aging Research advances scientific and medical discoveries that can maximize healthy aging, independence and quality of life for older Americans. Founded in 1986 in Washington D.C., it has become a valued advocacy organization and a respected influential voice with policymakers. The Alliance believes that research helps people live longer, happier, more productive lives, and reduces health care costs, long term.

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Give to organizations that support caregivers.

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) is one of those organizations. Founded in the late 1970s, FCA was the first community-based nonprofit organization in the country to address the needs of families and friends providing long-term care for loved ones at home. The alliance raises awareness about caregivers’ daily challenges, provides the assistance they need and deserve, and helps improve the quality of life for them and those they care for through education, services, research and advocacy.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 15.5 million caregivers provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia in 2013.

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Be there for friends who are caregivers.

Don’t shy away or do nothing when you learn a friend has a family member with Alzheimer’s. Instead of asking them to let you know if they need something–just step in and help: Tell them you’re bringing over dinner on a given night. Or when flickr_Susumu_Komatsu_ALZ_TYyou’re stopping by with groceries. Send them cards of encouragement in the mail.  Call or visit when it’s convenient, and listen while they vent. On any given day, you have no idea how much it can mean to them!

While there is no single answer for tackling Alzheimer’s disease, I know the care I’ve shown and donations I make can help . . . until a cure is found. I challenge you to do the same. Join the fight today.

-Candy Culver

Marketing Consultant