Heart health thoughts from Dr. Mike Lappi, GE Aviation’s Global Medical Director, for the month of love and heart disease awareness.

Heart break or a heart attack, this is the month of heart awareness. As Heart Health Month and the month of Valentine’s Day, February is all about taking care of your heart.

I’m no love expert, so I’ll refer you to Cupid and others for meaningful advice, however, I am the Global Medical Director at GE Aviation, so I know a thing or two about health. My role within GE is about making sure we are providing whatever our colleagues need to be healthy, and that they’re using these resources, because being healthy is more than just seeing a doctor when you’re sick. Health is about your lifestyle, and taking preventive measures to avoid bigger health problems down the road. We want our employees to reach their full potential by working efficiently and effectively, which is hard when you’re constantly battling your own mind and body instead of nurturing it. To connect with employees on a more personal level and to talk about some of these topics, we’ve started a monthly health-related podcast. I already gave away the theme for this month: heart health.

The heart is one of the hardest working muscles. Pushing oxygen, nutrients, hormones and other essential compounds to each part of the body, the heart pumps about two ounces of blood each heartbeat, adding up to 2,500 gallons a day, possibly beating over three billion times in someone’s life. Because it is such an important muscle, when it stops, some other essential functions fail almost instantly. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is actually a broad term used for a wide variety of diseases of the heart and blood vessels, such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders and heart defects present at birth.

One of the key, but most preventable, problems is the accumulation of cholesterol-rich deposits, also known as plaque, inside the arteries. Plaque limits blood flow through the arteries, and when it breaks apart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. Usually there are warning signs leading up to a heart attack, such as heaviness or tightness in your chest, shortness of breath, fatigue, sweating, nausea, palpitations, and neck or arm pain. The best way to stay on top of all of this is through annual physicals and appointments with your doctor where monitoring your cholesterol levels and blood pressure form the groundwork for early prevention.

Although heart disease is a leading cause of death, simply following a healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart attacks or at least optimize your heart’s ability to function. A balanced diet and staying active goes a long way; our bodies were not meant to sit all day, so be sure to get up and walk around throughout the day, stand when you can and schedule regular exercise that gets your heartrate up. According to the National Institute of Health, the average resting heart rate for adults is 60 – 100 beats per minute, but it can be much less for well-trained athletes because of their strict diets and level of exercise. Also, despite the social conception that men have fewer emotions than women, men’s hearts are slightly larger, causing women’s hearts to beat a little faster to make up for the size difference. However, although a big heart is supposed to be admirable, a physically bigger heart isn’t usually healthy.

Having said all of that… Valentine’s Day typically brings heightened emotions, so I will say that stress and emotional heartache can cause physical heart problems too because of certain hormones that are released in times of distress. This so-called “broken heart syndrome,” can be caused by stress triggered by the death of a loved one, break ups, financial issues, or even the fear of public speaking. Don’t worry too much though, this kind of pain is temporary and the heart should return to normal in a relatively short period of time.

Thanks for taking a few minutes to learn more about taking care of your heart. I hope February brings you nothing but happiness and joy throughout the Valentine’s Day Season!

-Dr. Lappi