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 he’s showed signs that he has it. He had a stent put in when he was in his early 30s after suffering a mild heart attack to restore blood flow through his arteries. He takes a slew of medications for his heart, blood pressure and cholesterol. He goes to a cardiologist once a year to make sure his heart is in good shape. He has stress tests regularly.
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. Everything is connected, indeed.
Diet. 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.
Exercise. The heart is a muscle, and like any muscle, it needs to be worked in order to remain strong. 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. 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 some of our most important reproductive hormones are produced while we sleep, and our stress hormones remain balanced 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.
Stress. This is a big one. Stress has been linked to both compromised fertility and cardiac events. 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. The only time I’d been to the ER before was when I was 12 and my mother thought I was having appendicitis. The hospital staff quickly figured out it was just a bad case of indigestion and I sat for hours, waiting to be given a prescription for a strong antacid.
Well, 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; when I walked in 5 minutes later I couldn’t even find him. They’d whisked him away and when they took me to him, his shirt was off and he was hooked up to a million machines with wires and tubes attached to his chest, arms, and forehead. He looked like a science experiment.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a heart attack, but the first thing they asked him was how much stress he’d been under (answer: a lot). 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.
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.
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 good working order.
Make a commitment, during Heart Healthy 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,