Did you know that your heart beats an average of 80 times per minute (resting is around 72, but you have to take into account that when you’re active it is much higher). This adds up to around 115,200 times a day (give or take, depending on what you do) and over 42 million times a year!
That’s a lot of beating for one group of muscles. The heart weighs less than a pound but is the workhorse of the body. Some fun facts about the heart:
- If a kitchen faucet was turned to full blast it would take 45 years to equal the amount of blood a human heart pumps in an average lifetime!1
- Each day the heart creates enough energy to drive a truck 20 miles. In a whole lifetime that is equivalent to the distance to the moon and back.1
Although the human heart is so important to our health, many people don’t take it seriously. We, unfortunately, don’t typically take care of our hearts like we should. Did you know heart disease is still the #1 killer in the United States? It accounts for 1 in 3 deaths, but for some reason it doesn’t get near the publicity and focus as other causes like cancer, gun violence, or car accidents caused by drunk drivers.
Of course it isn’t a contest, but it almost seems as though heart disease isn’t such a big deal since you don’t hear about it as much. Nearly 600,000 people have heart attacks (cardiac arrest) each year, and most of them die as a result. Only about 6% of Americans who have a heart attack outside of a hospital setting survive! With that type of fatality rate, as well as the fact that you don’t really get to choose where you will have a heart attack, it is in your favor to avoid it altogether.
Heart disease is mostly preventable, so we need to focus on prevention. Concentrating on decreasing your risk of getting heart disease means giving attention to lifestyle behaviors like smoking, physical activity, and diet. Many adults have a long way to go to be leading heart healthy lives, as studies show that only about half of American adults meet the physical activity guidelines and only about 1.5% have a diet based on current guidelines. Sadly, kids are not fairing much better. The good news is that these types of risk factors are under your control.
When it comes to heart health, the younger you start, the better.
Focusing heart disease prevention efforts on young children is key. The American Heart Association has created Life’s Simple 7 with the goal of better heart health. The 7 areas include: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, physical activity, nutrition, body weight, and tobacco use. Check out their website for great tips on managing all of these lifestyle risk factors.
Why is it important to promote heart health in children? Because many lifestyle factors begin when we are young and continue through adulthood. Being a healthy child does not guarantee one will be a healthy adult, but the probability is much greater. Being an obese child or adolescent increases the likelihood of becoming an obese adult. It also increases the risk of health problems in adulthood including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, many types of cancer, and stroke.
Because children are a somewhat “captive” audience who are influenced by many sectors of society (family, school, the media, communities, church, government, medical providers, etc.), sending the right messages through these conduits can have positive and lasting consequences. School-based programs play a very important role in heart health promotion for youth. They are exposed to programs including health education, physical education, recess, and physical activity programs, and are affected by school healthy policies and the overall environment of the school.
It may take a lot of effort and coordination for a school to concentrate on promoting heart health when there are so many other things to teach, but it is well worth it. Focusing on a combination of education for children and their families is a big step toward improving heart health and preventing the many risk factors that lead to heart disease.
Considering all this, there really shouldn’t be just a heart month but a whole-hearted year. Take good care of your heart, it’s the only one you have and it needs to be up to snuff to get the job done!
1 Avraham, Regina. The Circulatory System. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.
BJ Williston, M.Ed. has a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis on Adapted Physical Education, and holds a California Teaching Credential in Physical Education and Adapted Physical Education. BJ has worked in the Physical Education/Physical Activity field since 1984. She has taught Physical Education in Hawaii, Oregon, and California at all levels Pre‐School‐College.
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