February is American Heart Month, and not just because of Valentine’s Day. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Here is the heart-stopping truth: in individuals under age 80, 34% of heart-related fatalities are due to preventable causes. That’s almost 100,000 people annually who die before their time due to modifiable risks. Translation: small life changes could have saved them.

The most common modifiable risks that damage our cardiovascular systems include lack of physical activity, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor diet, and being overweight. Let’s take a moment and own this: which of these do we and/or our loved ones struggle with?

The good news is that we do not have to be heartsick before our time. By understanding our personal risks and making informed life changes, we can put our hearts first this Valentine season. In fact, I think that hearts can be called the trump suit in the euchre game of life.

Euchre is one of my favorite card games. When hearts are trump, even the lowly 9 of hearts can win a trick over other suits’ aces and kings. But if your hand is heartless, you may as well throw it down and hope your partner can go alone.

For fun, let’s use the top-ranking euchre cards to help us remember everyday heart-healthy behaviors.

The Jack of Hearts, also known as the Left Bower = Physical Activity. The prince on this card is a sprightly young fellow who always keeps moving. This is the top-ranking card in both euchre as well as life: regular physical activity is our number one strategy for better heart health.

The Jack of Diamonds, which becomes a heart, also known as the Right Bower = More Physical Activity! A second prince at the top of the rankings reinforces the importance of movement to having a strong cardiovascular system.

The Ace of Hearts = Clean Air. Just look at all the open space on this card: only one strong, shiny heart in the middle. Stop smoking and using tobacco to add life to your years and years to your life.

The King of Hearts = Stress Management. Running a kingdom is hard work. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, and challenges on the borders. In our busy lives, we need to build in some downtime and identify personal relaxation strategies. The king usually has a joker to make him laugh, right?

The Queen of Hearts = Healthy Diet. This royal lady wants only the most nutritious food in her kitchen. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins helps our bodies work more efficiently and keeps our weight down. Limiting our sugar and fat intake is also essential to good heart health.

In the euchre game of life, it doesn’t matter how many diamonds we have or how many clubs we belong to: spades could be digging us an early grave if we don’t give priority to our hearts.

By Chrissie Kaufmann, YMCA of Greater Michiana
Friday, February 7, 2020 - 10:18am