Besides cold temperatures, February brings a reason to take matters of the heart seriously. While Valentine's Day opens our heart with regard to romance, February's American Heart Month begs us to take a closer look inside our heart in terms of its long-term health.
One of the American Heart Association's biggest challenges is to convince us to take responsibility for our heart health. This means focusing on prevention by having some simple tests to determine blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, fasting blood glucose as well as height, weight and waist circumference. Checking these numbers each year makes it easier to protect our hearts.
While love and cardiac disease would seem an odd combination on a child's mind, you might be surprised to learn these very subjects do indeed weigh heavy on a child's heart. I was impressed by what a group of students and their teacher, Megan Miller, recently did at Watts Elementary. This fourth- and fifth-grade split class found a way to enlist the spirit of both Valentine's Day and American Heart Month hoping to improve the heart health of their parents.
Miller spent time with her students teaching them how the heart works and how to be healthy. This lesson motivated the children to write questions to me - some I will share with you - and ultimately inspired them to observe both holidays by sending valentines with specific heartfelt messages.
Following are some of the questions sent from Miller's class, which include Imani, Jarrod, Skyler, Brianna, Katie, Lorrenzo, Christian, Jarod, Janija, Kesha, Austin, Honey, Erica, Lawson, Amesley and Kailyn:
"What is your heart's purpose?" Your heart is a muscular organ that acts like a pump to send blood throughout your body all the time. The heart muscle controls the circulation of blood through your arteries, veins and capillaries. Your body relies on your heart's pumping ability. The blood that is pumped provides your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs. It also carries away waste. The stronger your heart is, the stronger you will be and the more energy you will have.
"What makes your heart beat?" Your heartbeat is triggered by an electrical system that is built into your heart. These electrical impulses travel down a special pathway through your heart to regulate it and to make the heart muscle contract. The muscle contracts at the top of the heart and spreads downward and then up again. These contractions pump blood throughout your body.
"Does everything in your life affect your heart?" Yes, most health habits affect your heart. The kind of food you eat, the amount of exercise you do and how well you sleep each night are very important for a strong heart. Taking care of your body should be something you think about every day. If you have good health habits like eating good food and exercising at least 60 minutes a day, your heart will take care of you for a very long time. Remember that everything about your heart will affect your life!
"Why does blood flow through your heart?" Your heart's main job is to be a hard-working pump. It is really two pumps in one. The right side of your heart receives blood from the body and pumps it to your lungs. The left side of the heart does the opposite. It receives blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the body. Blood must flow through your heart so that these jobs can be done. This allows blood to circulate from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. It takes less than 60 seconds to pump blood to every cell in your body. This blood is full of oxygen and nutrients your body needs to stay alive.
"If you eat and exercise, will you lose pounds?" Sometimes you will and sometimes you won't. If you need to lose weight, eating the right amount of healthy food and exercising every day will help you lose body fat. If you don't need to lose weight, eating right and exercising will simply keep you healthy. The main benefit we get from eating right and exercising is a strong and energetic body. Strong bodies don't get sick very often and are less likely to have disease.