Since February is Heart Month, I’m going to post about some self-care practices that can positively impact heart health. In a way, it’s all kinda tied together: We must love ourselves and take good care of ourselves if we want to have healthy hearts. Many self-care practices are so good for our overall well-being including our hearts. So I’ll be posting on some self-care topics that you may need to focus on. Don’t be overwhelmed, just pick one or two, make a plan, and take action. Doing something is ALWAYS better than doing nothing.
Self-care practice #1: If you smoke, please, stop. Statistics indicate many adults HAVE stopped smoking, but I live in the South and many here haven’t stopped. Teen smoking and vaping continues to be of concern. Also, globally, smoking rates are on the increase in many countries.
Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes is a potent vasoconstrictor. Vasoconstrictors close up your blood vessels which reduces blood flow to important areas including your heart, brain, and kidneys. Smoking also raises your blood pressure. Of course, smoking can increase your risk of emphysema and several cancers. Aside from the medical havoc smoking creates, it stinks! Yes, you do smell like an ashtray no matter how much cologne you spray on yourself afterwards. And smoking has become pretty inconvenient in the past few years. You can’t just light up anywhere, what to do what those smelly cigarette butts, and lots of folks really think smokers are a pain. Now if you’re a rebel, as many smokers seem to be, you might not care about the social stigma. But at some point we smoke because we CAN’T quit, not because we look so cool and rebellious.
First, let me say, I’m NOT one of those who has never smoked and looks down on those who do. I’m also not a reformed smoker who now has no sympathy for those who are still smoking. Quitting smoking was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I started smoking when I was in my early teens. Looking back at some of the cigarette ads, it’s easy to see why a young, impressionable teen might have decided to try smoking back then. Advertisers made it look so darn cool, right?!? And although we were told smoking was bad back then, it was more like a vice or a rebellious behavior for teens. And I grew up in Kentucky, tobacco capital of the world. No one was against tobacco there! We were contributing to the state’s economy!😉
I smoked my last cigarette the night before my heart attack. I woke up the next morning with severe pain between my shoulder blades and, long story short, I had a 95% blockage of my LAD. I got a stent and so began my life with heart disease. Honestly, I was terrified to smoke after that experience!
First of all, I did not want that heart pain to return. It was awful and I thought the pain itself might kill me. Also, I felt like I’d been given a second chance at life…wouldn’t it be totally disrespectful to smoke again after surviving one cardiac emergency?? I just couldn’t do it!
It was NOT easy. During those first few months I could have easily lit up a pack and smoked them all. But I didn’t. I figured out my triggers (first thing in the morning, riding in the car, sitting on the porch in the evening, when overly stressed at work) and made a game plan for each trigger. I ate A LOT of baby carrots🥕 Something about that hand-to-mouth motion helped to decrease my cravings. I took it one minute at a time some days. And the days passed to months, months to years, and now it’s been almost 8 years since I’ve smoked.
Today I can’t imagine ever smoking again. Still, I totally understand the need to smoke. I was very fortunate because research indicates it can take multiple attempts to quit smoking. So if you try to stop, and then start smoking again, don’t give up! If you don’t KEEP TRYING to quit, you’ll never stop smoking! There are patches and logenzes, along with some medications that might help you stop. Talk to your healthcare provider and see what they suggest. There are websites that can help you and here’s a link to The American Lung Association’s stop smoking resources: bit.ly/2TDmV4I.
In the end, it’s up to us to make the choices that lead us to heart health. Some choices are easier than others particularly when addictive substances, such as nicotine, are involved. Get the support you need! And never quit trying to quit. Believe me, I’m so glad I quit and I’m cheering for you to do the same! 🎉 How are you doing with this act of self-care? I’d love to hear from you. ❤️