This December marks the 24th anniversary of my father’s death. For those of us who have lost loved ones around the holidays, this time of year brings a mix of emotions. Losing my father at a young age shaped my life in many ways, especially my vocational journey. His long battle with heart disease was intimately linked to his diet and lifestyle, though he seemed unmindful of the connection.
Heart disease is the foremost preventable cause of death in our country, with one out of every four deaths attributed to it. In addition to the physical and emotional suffering, it costs the U.S. well over 100 billion dollars every year. About half of all Americans have at least one risk factor that increases their chances of having heart disease: smoking, high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight, poor diet, physical inactivity, diabetes, and excessive alcohol use. From teenagers on up, there is hardly a person in our country who does not already have the beginning stages of vascular disease. Our unhealthy diets damage our blood vessels and over the years the processes designed to heal the inflammation can’t keep up with our destructive lifestyles. This is atherosclerosis.
Most of us know these things. We know that we would be healthier if we ate a better diet and exercised more. But it usually takes a drastic event to shake us out of our complacency. I know it did for me.
The holidays can often be a time when we are bombarded with unhealthy food choices, but it is a fallacy to believe that we cannot enjoy this season without them. The pleasure obtained from indulging unwisely is frivolous compared to the pleasure received from feeling vibrant and full of good health, combined with the joy of being with healthy loved ones. The best gift we could give to our loved ones and ourselves this Christmas is take action to improve our diets and lifestyles.