Many metaphors come to mind when the word heart is mentioned. “A big heart”: someone who is caring; “the heart of a lion”: someone who is brave; “a strong heart”: someone who is emotionally stable.
These metaphors are figures of speech usually connected to one’s emotions; but have you ever wondered about the connection between having a healthy heart and a good quality of life? Would these phrases be valuable if the heart was not in good shape? The heart is a complex and vital organ; and while there may not be a connection between the heart and emotions, it nevertheless plays a major role in our daily lives. As the pump of life, the heart powers the system of blood flow and provides oxygen to every living cell in the body.
The unfortunate news is that heart disease negatively impacts millions of people around the globe annually. By 2020, heart disease and strokes will become the leading causes of both death and disability worldwide.1 They affect men, women, and children—and ministers are no exception!
How can we serve the Lord with all our heart when our physical heart remains in jeopardy? The psalmist wrote, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), and we should recognize the importance of staying healthy to serve and witness for Him effectively and joyfully.
Clergy need to be aware of the conditions associated with heart disease and how to limit or eliminate life-threatening risks. Eating an unbalanced diet, not exercising, smoking, or suffering from diabetes can increase the chances for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Ministers can do many things to lessen their chances of a heart attack or stroke: exercise most days of the week, at least 30 minutes a day; plan balanced meals by including more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes in appropriate portions; take time to relax and meditate to reduce stress.
Another important responsibility is to screen your cholesterol. Know your numbers! An accumulation of fat in the arteries raises the risk of heart attack and becomes harmful to your health. The American Heart Association says that total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL.2 In addition, HDL cholesterol (healthy) should be high and LDL cholesterol (lethal) should be low.
Blood pressure should also be checked at least once a year since hypertension is a significant risk factor for strokes and heart disease. Blood pressure should not exceed 120/80. These numbers represent the systolic and diastolic pressure respectively. Simply stated, systolic blood pressure is generated during contraction of the heart muscle and is higher, whereas diastolic blood pressure is maintained by the muscle tone of the arterial system, while the heart is relaxed and filling with blood. Blood pressure readings consistently above 130 systolic or 85 diastolic can indicate the condition of pre-hypertension. Persons with this warning level of blood pressure need to seriously address their sodium (salt) intake, lack of exercise, overweight tendencies, and increase their potassium levels by eating more fruits and vegetables. The higher potassium levels ingested by vegetarians are considered to be a factor in their lower blood pressure when compared to omnivores. Knowing your numbers can motivate you to stay in the healthy range.
Health plays a major role in spirituality. Daniel and his three friends provide a prime example of temperance and prudence. Making wise choices can lead along a healthier road to happiness and longevity. Actively pursuing good health may prepare you in your later years (since aging is inevitable as the body breaks down) to serve the Lord better. Protect your heart, do not hurt it, keep it strong because, as ambassadors for Christ, we represent Him in all we say, do, and are.
Medical consultants: Allan Handysides, MB, ChB, FRCPC, FRCSC, FACOG; and Peter Landless, MB, Ch, MMed, FCP(SA), FACC, FASNC.
1 World Health Organization, www.who.int (accessed April
14, 2010). WHO publishes definitive atlas on global heart
disease and stroke epidemic.
2 Jennifer Ashton, “Four Numbers to Know for Your Health,”
CBS News, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/10/
(accessed April 14, 2010).