Protect your Heart

Metaphorically, the heart is considered the seat of emotions, desires, and character. Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) states “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” While this passage appears to refer to how individuals live, this is still sage advice for one’s physical wellbeing as well. Literally, the heart’s purpose is to circulate oxygenated blood providing necessary nutrients to keep the body functioning. When the heart is limited by disease, every organ system is affected. Heart disease includes high blood pressure and high cholesterol remains the leading cause of death in America. Mook’s 2019 study Prevalence of Chronic Disease, associated factors, and health-related quality of life among Wesleyan Clergy, found 28% of Wesleyan clergy experience high blood pressure and an additional 35% have high cholesterol. The following five points about heart disease are taken from the American Heart Association material.

  1. Participate in wellness exams and screenings. As the adage says, “prevention is better than a cure.” Find a healthcare provider and complete annual physical exams. Evaluating blood pressure, heart rate, and weight are primary screening measures for heart disease. It is important to establish these values when individuals are healthy to establish a true baseline of health. Screenings are also important to identifying risk factors (e.g. family history) or other diseases that contribute to heart disease (e.g. diabetes mellitus). Many insurances cover preventative appointments and screening. Local hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, and health departments also frequently host free or discounted screenings. Do you go to annual wellness exams or health screenings? What resources are available in your community that offer screenings at a reduced cost?
  2. Lifestyle matters. National guidelines encourage moderate-intensity exercise (e.g. brisk walking) for a total of 150 minutes per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (e.g. running or jogging). Kids need about 60 minutes of activity each day. Regardless of your age, start now. Find a workout buddy for accountability or make it a family affair. Everyone needs a healthy heart. Along with exercise, a heart-healthy diet (limited fat and salt) full of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grain, and high fiber is essential. Try ensuring you have a wide variety of colors on your plate. Foods of different colors have different nutrients and help provide a healthier balance. Lastly, attempt to maintain a normal body mass index for your height, weight, and age. How can you increase your daily activity? Are most of your meals colorful or all one color? Calculate Your BMI ( Not sure what is normal? Check 
  3. Are you resting when you sleep? Getting enough rest is essential to stress management and heart health. Snoring can be a sign of an underlying condition called sleep apnea, a condition where there is a brief pause when breathing that can occur multiple times during an hour. This results in the individual waking, sometimes to a loud snore or gasping for air. It is more common in people who are overweight and male. Lack of meaningful sleep also triggers the stress hormone and interrupts stress management. Over time, this increases the risk of developing heart disease. Do you ever wake up with a sudden snore or gasping for air? Do people complain about your snoring?
  4. Medications alone are not enough. The first recommendation for those with risk factors for heart disease is always going to be lifestyle modifications. However, if your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are above certain levels, medication may be prescribed by your healthcare provider in addition to lifestyle changes. These medications should be taken as prescribed. You may be asked to check blood pressure with portable devices. Ensure you know how to use your device for accurate results. Write down or track using a health app for blood pressure, heart rate, and weight trends. This may help your healthcare provider adjust medications or make other recommendations. The combination of lifestyle and medications improves overall health and diminishes the risks of long-term complications. What is your normal blood pressure? If you have a blood pressure device at home, do you know how to use it?
  5. Signs of heart attack and stroke. Heart attacks are most commonly associated with excruciating, crushing chest pain that lingers. Pain may occur in the arm(s), back, neck, jaw, or stomach. Pain may occur with difficulty breathing, nausea, sweating, or dizziness. Women may experience atypical symptoms. Strokes can result from uncontrolled blood pressure or if fat within the vein (cholesterol) breaks off and blocks blood flow to the brain. The mnemonic F.A.S.T. (Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911). If you or someone you are with experiences any of these symptoms, call 911 and seek professional help. Would you be able to recognize the sign of a heart attack or stroke?

To learn more about prediabetes and diabetes, see the following resources: 

American Heart Association. (2017). “How to Eat More Fruit and Vegetables.”

American Heart Association. (2021). “F.A.S.T. Materials.”

American Heart Association. (2015). “How to Help Prevent Heart Disease at Any Age.”

American Heart Association. (2021). “What You Need to Know About How Sleep Apnea Affects Your  

Mayo Clinic. (2019). “Strategies to Prevent Heart Disease.” 

National Institute of Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and National Institute of Health (2021). “COVID-19 and the Heart.” 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute & National Institute of Health. (n.d.). “Calculate Your Body Mass Index.”

United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). “Heart Health.”

Physical contributor: Anna Mangimela, MSN, RN, MSRN-BC, Assistant Professor School of Nursing Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle