While we all work in a physically demanding field, our bodies broken down and rebuilt constantly, our hearts can only take so much pounding. It’s a worry of a lot of folks in our fields, the long hours, the hard work, the stress. In the U.S., heart disease continues to be the number one killer. Looking to protect your heart? Here’s what you need to know and put to work to help fight against heart disease.
Heart Disease Risk Factors
Heart disease has a number of causes, some of which are unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean we should just give up and accept our fate. Know the risks, know what you are able to control and how best to manage them.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
- Gender (men are at a higher risk)
- Age (the older you are, the higher the risk, also being post-menopausal)
- Family history of heart disease.
Despite how much we wish we could, we can’t turn back the clock and revert to our younger, healthier years. We are what we are. But there are a number of risk factors for heart disease that are well within our control.
Controllable Risk Factors
- Physical inactivity
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Stress and anger
- High ‘bad’ cholesterol, or low ‘good’ cholesterol.
Some of these are likely not affecting those who work in physically demanding jobs. Physical inactivity, for instance, can be crossed right off, but doing the right kind of activity or exercise can be huge. Get an aerobic workout like swimming, jogging, or cycling to keep your heart in great working order.
Worried about your cholesterol levels? Speaking with a doctor can help you better understand your risk for heart disease and the levels that are ‘best’ for you. In general, a diet low in saturated and trans fats, sugars, and cholesterol will help keep those levels low. At times medications are needed to help with lowering them. Exercise can be a great tool for lowering the bad cholesterol and raising the good.
Speaking of diets, managing your blood pressure, diabetes, and just eating right can have a serious effect on keeping your heart healthy. Your diet should keep salt and refined sugars low, and include plenty of plant-based foods, and foods rich in nutrients and vitamins, antioxidants especially if you can manage. This will help keep your blood pressure in check and manage your diabetes. Don’t skimp on medications either if your doctor recommends them.
If you smoke, quit now. Smokers have over double the risk of developing heart attacks than non-smokers. For our friends in the firefighting community, the exposure to smoke is unavoidable at times and so they should take all possible steps to decrease their risk.
Stress and anger are more big components of heart disease. Both do a number on your body, and for most of us, stress is just something that comes with the job. How you handle that stress is crucial if you’re to keep your heart healthy and pumping for a long time coming. Where work stress can be at times unavoidable, it’s how you manage it in the off hours that will make a huge difference. Taking up stress or anger management techniques like yoga or even meditation can also give you the tools to better handle the stress in your daily life.
Get enough sleep! This can be the hardest thing to achieve. After all, our lives are so hectic and busy, it can be tough to make sure you are sleeping right. People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be obese, have higher blood pressure, diabetes, and more. Think about it, when you sleep is when your body does all its hard work to repair the damage done daily. For those like us in physically demanding work, that recovery period is crucial. Every little bit your body doesn’t get to during sleep is compounded.
On top of all of this, make sure you are getting regular health screenings. It can be hard, to go into a doctor knowing you’re going to hear bad news (‘You’re not underweight,’ ‘Your blood pressure is through the roof,’ tell us something we don’t know!) but without it, those problems can go ignored. Get checked up, see where you stand, work to improve it, and get checked out again. If you want to avoid a heart attack, you need to take care of yourself, it won’t happen accidentally.
We know you’re up to it. After all, none of us would have gotten into these industries if we were afraid of hard work. You need to be fighting heart disease, otherwise who will be stopping forest fires, or building that skyscraper? Take care of yourself, we all need you.