In case you forgot or have missed the commercials, ads and other marketing cues, Valentine’s Day is this month. This holiday is often considered a “Hallmark holiday” that’s been manufactured by the card and chocolate industries. Rather than getting caught up in that, try taking a different approach this year and focusing on the quality of your relationships with friends, family members and even co-workers.
Several scientific studies on social connections have shown that people with positive and satisfying relationships are happier, have fewer health problems and live longer. Strong relationships also lessen the risk for social isolation. In addition to this growing body of evidence, social ties have the potential to be a positive influence on health behaviors. Healthier lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, engaging in physical activity and eating a nutritious diet – all of which serve as protective factors against heart disease – are easier to achieve when our social circles support, reinforce and participate in these behaviors.
“Part of having a long, successful career as a Laborer is taking care of your health,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “LIUNA members work tough, physical jobs that demand a certain level of cardiovascular fitness. Improving our heart health, whether it’s through lifestyle choices or building strong social ties with the people around us, can make the tasks we perform easier and improve the quality time we spend with friends and family.”
Someone experiencing loneliness – a subjective feeling related to social isolation and perceived lack of companionship – may have higher levels of stress hormones. One of these stress hormones is cortisol, which is responsible for activating the fight-or-flight response and also assists in controlling the body’s mood and motivation. Higher levels of cortisol bring an increased risk for heart disease.
Healthy friendships and relationships take time, care and attention. To build them, find people with common interests whom you enjoy spending time with. Also, consider giving back to the community where you live, learn, work and spend your leisure time by volunteering your time and talents.
Most healthy, productive relationships still experience conflict from time to time. During these moments, the conflict itself matters less than how you and the other person deal with it. Strive to come to a common understanding, and compromise where possible, rather than making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.
Healthy relationships can help contribute to a healthy heart, but there are also concrete behaviors that may lower your risk for heart disease:
- Eating a nutritious diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, beans, lean cuts of meat and poultry, and low in saturated fat (fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy) and trans fats (deep-fried foods, processed foods and baked goods).
- Watch your weight. A healthy weight is different for everyone; talk with your health care provider to determine your healthy weight and how to achieve it.
- Quit smoking and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking lowers your “good” cholesterol, raises triglycerides and increases the buildup of plaque in blood vessels. Firsthand and secondhand smoke can damage the lining of blood vessels.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Reduce alcohol intake if necessary. Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
- Being physically active. Aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity (activities that get your heart beating faster) and two days of muscle-strengthening activity (activities that make your muscles work harder than usual) each week.
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure through lifestyle choices like the ones listed above; talk with your health care provider to find out if medication may be advisable for you.
Cultivate healthy relationships – personal or professional, platonic or romantic – and your heart will thank you, in more ways than one. Celebrate American Heart Month this February by taking a few minutes to find out more about heart disease and learn if you could be at risk.
The Fund’s Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers: Weight & Your Health pamphlet and the Your Heart at Work toolbox talk both provide additional information. Order online by going to www.lhsfna.org and clicking on Publications.