As February wraps up, I reflect back on our theme of heart health. Here at Maria, we have been fortunate to have programing revolving around physical heart health, as well as emotional heart health. Starting with physical heart health, I often am most concerned by the statistic that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, more than all the cancers combined (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).
One of the saddest and most frustrating parts of that statistic is that often times the delay and onset of heart disease that can be avoided altogether. So why are women so debilitated by heart disease? One reason could certainly be our over-salty, over-sugary American diets; another reason could be our lack of healthy fitness cultural norms. However, the one reason I would like to talk about today is something called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the overlap of emotional health and physical health on a Venn diagram and important to understand on both the individual level and population level.
Oxidative stress is when our emotional selves are under stress and release a set of hormones. Originally, these hormones were meant to keep us safe and help us avoid stressful situations. Most commonly we think of the lion attacking the cave person. However, now with our jobs, families, friends, school, obligations, bills, so on and so on, our bodies are continually sending off a stress. When those hormones are released, our body sort of speeds up, like a machine working too fast, and often times this creates room for “error,” or in biochem terms, free radicles. Free radicles are tiny particles that are looking to attach to something—anything—in order to become stable. (Think of a leaf in autumn blowing around looking for a drain pipe or other structure to settle against). Unfortunately though, free radicles can often take a toll on our muscles. One of the most important, if not the most important muscle, is our heart. This muscle is the constant exposure to emotional stress causing free radicles and oxidation that slowly eats away physical health.
Therefore, I encourage you as my fellow Maria College Community to not just focus on your heart health physically (although fitness is always great), but to mostly take a second to distress, enjoy a cup of tea, write down your thoughts, or just take a few deep breaths because who knows, it might just save your life one day!
Jillian Mertzlufft MPH
Health and Wellness Committee