Time is my most precious commodity. I struggle with how to fit in a full-time job with being the mother of a 6- and 4-year-old, a wife, a sister, a daughter and a friend. And then there’s taking care of myself. February is American Heart Month and a key month for the Go Red For Women movement, the American Heart Association’s campaign to end heart disease and stroke in women. These two health threats cause one in three women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute. Yet, the good news is that 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes.
I used to struggle with finding the time and energy to take care of myself when others depend on me. It almost felt selfish. Then I changed my perspective: What if I were to go missing from my story? Who would take care of my kids? What kind of pain would my absence cause my husband, my parents and my siblings? Who would be there for my friends? Who would complete my life’s story?
For me, that perspective was a crucial turning point that turned taking care of myself from a selfish to a selfless act. Taking care of myself involves exercise, nutrition and being an advocate with my primary care physician. The American Heart Association encourages all women to take charge of their health by developing a relationship with their physician and developing a heart health plan. I recently found an amazing doctor and we’ve set short-term and long-term health goals.
A crucial component of good health is exercise, which has countless benefits for mental and physical health. The AHA recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. Taking time to exercise sets a good example for my kids. It gives me more energy to run around and play rocket ships and tag, and helps me mentally by giving me thought clarity and positive moods. And if I’m really candid, sometimes during a run I feel like a conqueror, an overcomer, a pillar of strength – and I like it. I try to run 2 miles about four times a week. I don’t need to run far; short and frequent runs work best for me. I also play beach volleyball and dance at different times of the year. These are forms of exercise that fuel my soul.
Eating healthy can improve heart and brain health. I am conscious of what I eat and try to get protein, fruits and vegetables in throughout the day. We teach our kids about the importance of healthy eating and trying to get four to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. While they’re still a bit particular, they have become very fond of apples and green peppers.
Cardiovascular health is a long-term plan. I like the benefits I get from it now but I know that, just like a retirement account, good cardiovascular health will pay off down the road as well. Not wanting to go missing from my story isn’t just important today, it applies just as much 50 years from now.
During Heart Month, I encourage you to take care of you – a truly selfless act.
Kate Sawa, Executive Director of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Tampa Bay