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February is widely known to be the month that we celebrate Valentine’s Day but, more importantly, it is also National Heart Health Month. The Centers for Disease Control states that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with one in four deaths occurring as a result. This was not always the case. Deaths from heart related diseases fell 69 percent between 1950 and 2009. We have seen a major reversal since that time.

Why? One reason is younger and midlife adults are dying more often from heart disease. For adults aged 45 to 64 the death rate has risen 8.5 percent according to Kaiser Permanente of Northern California. Higher numbers of older adults are also dying from heart disease.

At the St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund, we see many applicants that have some form of heart disease. Three common types of heart disease that we see on a consistent basis are myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure.  A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is interrupted and causes damage or destroys part of the heart muscle. Coronary artery disease occurs when arteries become diseased and are unable to adequately circulate blood or supply the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. This is usually caused by plaque buildup in the arteries. Congestive heart failure is when the heart can no longer efficiently pump the blood throughout the body. Sometimes, one of these diagnoses prevents a driver from ever returning to work behind the wheel of a truck.

There are risk factors and lifestyle choices that can increase the risk of heart disease. They include smoking, diabetes, junk food diets, high blood pressure, stress, age, family history, and being sedentary for prolonged periods of time.

There is good news! While you can’t control all risk factors, most types of heart disease can be prevented by practicing the following:

  1. Get moving on a regular basis. Exercise strengthens the circulatory system and the heart. It also helps maintain a healthy blood pressure. Start with just a few minutes a day and add a few minutes as you are able. Make sure you move often. Sitting for long periods of time can take years off your life. Hope Zvara with Mother Trucker Yoga has great ideas to help you get fit and flexible.
  2. Make a move towards eating clean and healthy. The following foods are considered to be super foods: vegetables (especially the green leafy ones) are great for the body, and fruits are loaded with vitamins (any fruit ending with ‘berry’ is going to be best; e.g., strawberry, blackberry, blueberry).
  3. Eat moderately sized meals. The portion sizes of meals is much larger than just a few years ago.
  4. If you smoke, QUIT! Smoking is a major risk factor for not only heart disease, but also other cardiovascular diseases. According to a study done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), approximately 51% of truck drivers smoke compared to 19% of the national working population. SCF offers a smoking cessation program, Rigs without Cigs, tailored to fit the needs of professional drivers. You can find more information and register here.
  5. Drink alcohol in moderation. Regular or high alcohol use can lead to diseases of the heart muscle. Drinking alcohol regularly also can raise your blood pressure.
  6. Take action to reduce or keep your high blood pressure or diabetes under control. If you get regular exercise and eat a healthy diet, you may no longer have either of these issues. We have a 12 week video based series available to all drivers called Driven To Be Healthy.

The CDC estimates that 650,000 deaths each year are caused by cardiovascular disease (including strokes) in the United States in 2022. Don’t be a statistic. You have the power to make positive changes in your life. Make one small change at a time and move in the right direction. It all begins with you. Let’s get started!