February is Healthy Heart Month.
While it might seem like our heart doesn’t have anything to do with fertility, the opposite is true.
Our heart pumps the blood that keeps us alive. Our heart never stops working for us. It pumps blood every second of every day.
And, the first sign we look for in a healthy pregnancy is a heartbeat.
Focusing on our heart health during our fertility journey is very important.
I’ve read the statistics. I know that that heart disease kills more people each year than cancer. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
For me, though, it’s more personal than that.
Heart disease runs in my husband’s family, and we’re pretty sure that he has it. After suffering a mild heart attack in his early 30s, he had a stent put in to restore blood flow through his arteries. He takes a slew of medications for his heart, blood pressure and cholesterol. An annual visit to the cardiologist and regular stress tests are part of his care regimen.
This has been his way of life for more than 15 years, and he’s not even 50 yet.
For my husband’s personal health and for the health of our family, I’ve made it a personal mission to learn more about managing his condition and how to keep his heart in good working order. And I figured I might as well keep mine in good shape at the same time.
And guess what. I’ve learned that so many of the things that we focus on to improve our heart health are exactly the same things we focus on to boost our fertility. Our body’s systems are all connected, indeed.
Nutrition is vital to our health. We are what we eat, and when we eat heart-healthy foods, we have a healthy heart. A well-balanced, whole-foods diet including lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables helps keep our heart strong and healthy.
This is the same type of diet that experts recommend to boost our fertility as well. In fact, some of the very same foods that I’ve written about that can improve our fertility – things like salmon, blueberries, whole-grain oats and leafy green vegetables – are also important for improving heart health.
The heart is a muscle, and like any muscle, we need to keep it strong through exercise. Exercise can serve many goals, from weight loss to strength building to enhanced lung capacity. The heart pumps blood to keep our bodies alive so that we can do many things, including reproduce, so keeping our heart healthy helps ensure that our reproductive system will be able to do its thing, too.
If you aren’t exercising right now, considering starting a basic exercise routine. If you are exercising regularly, keep it up! As I’ve written before, a good goal to shoot for is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days a week.
Sleep revitalizes us on a daily basis and is crucial for mental clarity and focus. I’ve written before about the importance of sleep for healthy fertility because our body produces our most important reproductive hormones are produced while we sleep. Sleep helps balance stress hormones as well.
Sleep is just as important for a healthy heart. Poor sleep quality has been linked to high blood pressure, which is one of the causes of heart disease. So for your heart and your reproductive system, aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
This is a big one. Stress has been linked to both compromised fertility and cardiac events. Excessive stress, or ineffective management of stress, leads to high blood pressure, chest pain, irregular heartbeats, and, yes, heart disease. Chronic stress can also affect your ovulation, which can have a negative impact on your fertility.
I’ll never forget the night I had to drive my husband to the emergency room because we thought he was having a heart attack. Thankfully he wasn’t having a heart attack, but the first thing they asked him was how much stress he’d been experiencing recently (answer: a lot).
Before that night, I’d only been to the ER once in my life, at the age of 12. My mother thought I had appendicitis, but the hospital staff quickly figured out I was just experiencing a bad case of indigestion and I sat for hours, waiting for a prescription for a strong antacid.
That night I learned that if you go into the ER and tell them you think you’re having a heart attack, you get in right away. I dropped my husband off at the entrance so I could go park the car. When I walked in 5 minutes later I couldn’t even find him. The staff had whisked him away. I finally saw him, shirtless and hooked up to a million machines with sensors on his chest, arms, and forehead. He looked like a science experiment.
In today’s world, we aren’t able to eradicate stress from our lives, but we need to find a way to manage it. Our heart health, and our fertility, depend on it.
Healthy Heart, Healthy You
Our cardiovascular system and reproductive system are two different things, but they have to coexist in the same body. All of our systems are interconnected. Luckily, we can use the same strategies to keep both our heart and our reproductive system in top shape.
Make a commitment, during Healthy Heart Month and all year long, to nurture your cardiovascular system as a crucial way to take control over your health. When you eventually get pregnant, having a healthy heart will help you to have a healthy pregnancy.
To your health and fertility,
[originally appeared at B Fit, B Fertile 2/23/17]