Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Ounce of Prevention

A heart attack doesn't look like this:
Image courtesy Heart Attack Grill

Image courtesy Heart Attack Grill

A heart attack looks more like this:

Image courtesy laika-one, from Flickr

And later you might look like this:

Image courtesy drburtoni, from Flickr

I saw a lot of people having heart problems at work last week, and it really got to me. One was a co-worker that I'm very fond of. Another was a 60 year old man who has been working hard to improve his diet and exercise regularly, but who continues to develop new coronary vessel abnormalities. And another was a very sweet man with a very sweet wife, who we stabilized for now but who probably won't be around for another year.

In the hospital we can fix the problem once it arises: there is medication for mild disease, stents for occluded vessels, and bypass surgery for extensive problems. Unfortunately, these interventions treat the existing problems but do little to prevent heart disease from advancing.

I have been watching some documentaries in the past few weeks about the connection between diet and health: "Food Matters," "The Last Heart Attack," and "Forks Over Knives." As Yoni Freedhoff, a Canadian physician and weight loss specialist, points out, The Heart Attack Grill is Not the Problem. The problem is the demand for cheap, easy, calorie dense, nutrient poor meals. It comes from the idea that a token amount of physical activity entitles us to a "treat," as David Staples discusses in his article Why I Hate the Snack Ritual in Youth Soccer Leagues. It gets perpetuated when government subsidies make fatty animal products and corn and soy based snack foods cheaper than fresh produce.

Watching those documentaries and seeing the devastating effects of heart disease in person have really reaffirmed my desire to get involved in primary prevention. I don't exactly know what that looks like, but it's forcing me to reconsider the type of nurse I want to be. It's also making me examine my diet and think about the changes I can make to live a longer, stronger, healthier life.

But for now, I hope everyone who reads this will consider making one or two small changes to improve heart health: get some exercise, add an extra vegetable or two to your plate, trade some of your refined grains for whole, and for Pete's sake don't smoke. If you need some convincing I would be happy to come by and start a large bore IV or two in your arm.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and be sweet to your arteries. It's worth it now and in the long run.

Image courtesy B G from Flickr

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