Groundhog Day intersects with Heart Month (February), a match made in cardiovascular messaging heaven, so we make no apologies for pressing Punxsutawney Phil into service to illustrate cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Sleep. Unlike most groundhogs, Phil doesn’t fully hibernate in the winter. What’s more, he gets yanked from his burrow at the crack of dawn to face bright lights and thousands of onlookers at Gobbler’s Knob in western Pennsylvania. While we can’t speak to the effect of those sleep patterns on groundhog physiology, we know that poor sleep habits in humans can cause major cardiovascular disease risk factors including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 7-9 hours of shut-eye each night.
Obesity. We don’t know Phil’s body mass index, but if people are overweight or obese, it’s a risk factor that can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation and more. A balanced diet and regular exercise are key.
Stress. Phil must be stressed out on Groundhog Day, what with all the commotion. In humans, chronic stress can lead to increased heart attack risk. The AHA says stress also may contribute to cardiovascular disease risks including smoking, overeating and lack of physical activity. Being active can help relieve stress, as can other activities such as meditation and yoga.
Diet. Groundhogs are mostly vegetarian, so Phil sets a relatively good example here. For us humans, the AHA recommends a diet that emphasizes:
- A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains and products made up mostly of whole grains
- Healthy sources of protein (mostly plants such as legumes and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or nonfat dairy; and, if you eat meat and poultry, ensuring it is lean and unprocessed)
- Liquid non-tropical vegetable oils
- Minimally processed foods
- Minimized intake of added sugars
- Foods prepared with little or no salt
- Limited or preferably no alcohol intake
Thanks for reading along. And here’s to an early spring, regardless of the pronouncement from Punxsutawney!