Humans are not good at judging risk. We tend to overestimate the risk associated with some behaviors (such as flying on a commercial airplane) and casually ignore the much higher risks associated with others (such as driving a car). And when it comes to our health, consider the nationwide panic last fall regarding the Ebola virus.
Outside of West Africa, the likelihood of coming in contact with Ebola is enormously slim. Five months since the first American case was discovered, the only people to have had Ebola in the United States either caught it in West Africa or cared for one specific patient who caught it in West Africa. Yet schools were closed, businesses shuttered and travel plans to certain parts of the country canceled — all when a handful of simple precautions was all that was necessary.
Thankfully, it appears that the deadly disease is finally on the wane in the stricken nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Yet there are more pressing risks that actually could bring about a tragic death much quicker than Ebola fells its victims. For example, heart disease and stroke.
February is American Heart Month, which aims to call attention to the misunderstood risks of cardiovascular disease — the top killer of men and women in the United States. Sadly, many of the deaths from cardiovascular disease could have been prevented. So many instances of heart disease are the result of a poor diet, and it’s up to individuals to know if their lifestyle is conducive to a healthy heart, or if it’s contributing to an early demise. Education is key, because the more you know early on, the more likely you’ll take it seriously before it becomes a problem. Unfortunately, many people learn about heart disease the hard way — not getting serious about it until their doctor tells them to. Still others don’t learn about this killer until after a heart attack or stroke — if they survive.
Education starts early, and it’s important that children develop a proper heart-conscious lifestyle so that when they reach middle age, they’re not scrambling to undo decades of bad habits. There are plenty of online resources to start on your path to a healthy heart, beginning with www.americanheart.org and www.cdc.gov. Although a proper diet is essential to heart health, other lifestyle changes include quitting tobacco, good stress management, routine medical check-ups and sufficient regular exercise. As Floridians, we’re fortunate to be able to enjoy the outdoors in February. Here in the western communities, we have an excellent parks system, and now’s a good time to use one of the many heart trails available. Run, jog or walk — anything is better than sitting on your couch.