Like most of my friends and colleagues, I began to pay serious attention to my health sometime after my 40th birthday. I had heard good advice frequently long before I reached that milestone: follow a balanced diet, exercise frequently, keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check. But before I reached mid-life, these admonitions and others like them had seemed like nice ideas, something I might get around to in the future.
Several more birthdays into middle-age, I now consider them quite literally words to live by. And a friend who is a couple of decades ahead of me says she considers these reminders essential and welcome guidelines to help her maintain her quality of life.
There is no doubt that aging carries with it risks, no matter how much we focus on a healthy lifestyle. A study conducted by researchers at Duke University’s School of Medicine and reported by the Alliance, suggests that physical decline begins our 50s and worsens as we age. It’s an inescapable fact that the effort to fight the good fight against aging intensifies as we get older. But – and this is a critically important caveat – we are fortunate to live in a time when research has provided important information about how we age, and what diseases can be mitigated or actually be prevented. We don’t have to be passive observers to the aging process. We have tools to manage it, and people to help us.
This brings me to an important seasonal message that I want to deliver on behalf of my colleagues at the Alliance. As we wrap up February – American Heart Month and a time when the Alliance leads Valve Disease Day awareness activities – we should remind ourselves of the risks of heart disease and how we can work to prevent it. The Alliance gives special focus to the risk of heart valve disease and led more than 120 other organizations to spread awareness of this potentially fatal condition recently for Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day. Four valves ensure that the blood in our heart’s chambers flow in one direction. If one or more of these valves is not functioning properly, blood may leak “backwards” and fail to deliver essential oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies.
Not all causes of heart valve disease can be prevented, but we can take proactive steps to lower our odds of experiencing this condition. A heart healthy lifestyle full of nutritious foods and physical activity, can help prevent or control high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and previously diagnosed heart conditions that could lead to valve disease. Managing any of these conditions will lower your risk of valve disease and improve your overall health.
While Valve Disease Day has officially passed, the opportunity to make an appointment for yourself or a loved-one with a health care professional to have a simple stethoscope check remains. Participating in the “Listen to Your Heart” Challenge is an important step towards protecting your heart and sowing others that you take your heart health seriously.
Some types of valve disease may still need to be treated with valve repair or replacement. Fortunately, these procedures and surgeries are usually very successful in patients of all ages. Regardless of where you are on your aging journey, we invite you to go to visit ValveDiseaseDay.org where you can learn more about heart valve disease, how to prevent it, and how to participate in the Listen To Your Heart Challenge. You can also follow #ValveDiseaseDay and #ListenToYourHeart on social media to see the worldwide impact this educational campaign has had.
We welcome your participation in this important effort, and we are here to support you as partners in fighting heart valve disease.