Protect Your Heart – It Could Keep You Above Ground

I recently lost a friend and colleague and, while the cause of death is yet to be determined, the speculation is that a massive heart attack removed him from this world and our lives and, as a result, the jazz world lost one of its most enthusiastic ambassadors.  Men’s health is nothing to dick around with hominids.  Black men in particular are notorious for ignoring warning signs that, with early detection, provide important indicators that all is not well but treatable.  Man Up fellas and take control of your health!

The Vitals

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • 5.1 million people in the US have heart failure
  • 1 in 9 deaths in 2009 included heart failure as a contributing factor
  • About half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years
Risk factors include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking tobacco (though smoking crack is OK?), eating foods high in fat, cholesterol and sodium, not getting enough physical activity and being obese.  This is hardly new information but it is well worth repeating since many of us ignore the data despite our knowing.

Warning Signs

Researches have done a lot of work in recent years studying the signs and symptoms patients experienced in the months and years leading up to a heart attack.  Melanie Haiken, Senior Editor at, reported on these common warning signs:
  • Erectile Dysfunction – ED is one of the best early warning signs of progressive heart disease.  Researchers at the Mayo clinic followed men ages 40-49  with ED and found that they were twice as likely to develop heart disease than those with no ED.  Why?  Narrowing and hardening of the arteries restricts blood flow to the penis.  So if you can’t get it up or keep it up, get to the doc and discuss your heart.  Don’t just seek treatment for the ED.
  • Snoring, Sleep Apnea and other breathing problems during sleep is another warning sign.  If you snore loud enough to make the dog bark, you could be showing signs of heart issues.  Those with sleep apnea were found to be 3 times more likely to have a heart attack within 5 years.  Why?  Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders that restrict breathing lowers the blood oxygen that feeds the heart.  If you suspect having a sleep disorder, ask your doc to set up a sleep study.  I participated in one about 5 years ago and it turned out to be one of the motivating factors that lead to my weight loss efforts.  Having to sleep with an oxygen mask on every night just wasn’t sexy at all.
  • Sore, swollen or bleeding gums.  That’s new information to me.  Experts believe that poor circulation due to heart disease could be an underlying cause of periodontal disease.
  • Puffy or swollen legs and feet.  If your feet swell enough to make your shoes tight or your ankles, wrists, or fingers are puffy, you might have a problem with fluid retention.  Why it matters?  Fluid retention occurs when the heart doesn’t pump strongly enough and blood doesn’t carry waste products away from tissues.  This is otherwise known as edema.  Talk to your doc about it.
  •  Irregular heart beat.  An early sign that something about your cardiovascular system is out of whack is irregular heart beat.  It may feel like your heart is beating too fast, pounding too hard or skipping a beat.  The most common cause of this is CAD (coronary artery disease) and is the leading cause of death for both men and women because it can lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Constricting or aching in the chest or shoulder.  Angina is the most common symptom of CAD.  It is not a sharp pain but more like a heavy weight.  When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, it deprives the heart muscle of blood, making it feel squeezed.
  • Shortness of breath can be an early sign that something is wrong with a major bodily system.  It will manifest itself during exercise, exertion and stress.  It may feel like you cant catch your breath.  Again, when your heart isn’t pumping strongly enough, it prevents oxygen from circulating properly.  95% of women who had a heart attacks reported unusual symptoms in the weeks leading up to the attack.  40% of those reported shortness of breath.

Knowing Matters

Education and early detection is key to staying in tune with your body.  Listen to it.  More often than not, it is trying to deliver feedback and that communication process just might save your life.

Another man was taken from this world before his time.  His was a father, a husband and an advocate.  He was 57 years old.  He was cool.  He was positive.  He was a voice for jazz.  He’s gone.  RIP Bobby Jackson.  You will be missed brother.

‘Tis The Giving Season

Those of you who have the misfortune of being included in my social networks know that I recently polled folks to gain an understanding of your charitable endeavors.  After all, it is the giving season.  That time of year when we are encouraged to be less self-centered and more giving of our time and resources to others.  ManUp Hominids and take the Joe Lee giving challenge!

Your Responses

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” ~ Proverbs 11:25. Try not to choke on the fact that I used a biblical quote.  I was encouraged to see diversity among the nonprofits listed in your responses.  They ranged from arts organizations to social service agencies to nonprofit healthcare and research.  And while the size of organizations ranged from small to large, those organizations with national appeal and recognizable brands were most common.  They have the resources to effectively market their services and causes and help shape public policy, while smaller nonprofits struggle for operating funds and recognition.  
The National Center for Charitable Statistics estimates that there are some 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S.. The number is even larger when you consider small organizations that don’t file IRS 990 reports.  Nonprofits are a vital force in our society that serve the public good often where gaps in service exist between the business and government sectors.

The Effects of Giving

“Wait a minute Joe Lee.  I thought your blog was about self-improvement!”  It is!  We’ve all heard that “giving makes you feel good”.  Research and anecdotal information seem to support what many of us thought to be true.  I recently read a study, The Effects of Giving on Givers, by Sara Konrath (Institute For Social Research, University of Michigan and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center) and Stephanie Brown (Stony Brook University Medical Center and Institute For Social Research at the University of Michigan) that examines many studies and research work conducted around this subject.  And while they concluded that researchers need to move beyond the simplistic question of whether or not giving has health benefits for the giver, many of the studies examined show consistent correlations between giving and well-being.
Giving time and money to organizations ~ research shows correlational links between making charitable donations and psychological well-being.  Volunteers who donate their time for “other-oriented” reasons like compassion, experience a significant reduction in mortality risk while “self-oriented” giving (those who volunteer to learn a new skill or feel good about themselves) sees no reduction in risk.
Giving social support ~ several correlational studies find that giving social support to others (friends & family) is associated with higher psychological well-being such as more happiness, increased self-esteem and less loneliness.  Giving in this case can include taking care of elderly relatives or a disabled friend.
Compassionate attitudes and traits ~ a number of correlational studies find that people who score high in empathy or compassion have lower stress, anxiety, hopelessness, and depression.  Who can’t use a little less hopelessness, right?
My take-away is that the key to gaining some of these benefits lies in “other-oriented” (e.g. compassion) giving.  That is giving for reasons other than personal gain or obligation. 

  The Joe Lee Challenge

Your next assignment Hominids (should you choose to accept) is to give of your time or resources for causes that you believe in.  Please select one and get to work.
  1. If you currently give to nonprofits, your challenge is to seek out a new, smaller nonprofit that provides services that address issues in your community that you are concerned about or an arts organization that shares your interest and passion for art.
  2. If you don’t currently give, find a nonprofit that provides services that you value, learn about their programs and make a gift.
  3. Teach your children the joys of giving to others.  Have your child assist with writing the check and explain what that nonprofit does, volunteer as a family, have them donate their own funds, etc.
  4. Join a nonprofit board.
  5. Volunteer your time.
These don’t count:
  1. Don’t drop your old funky clothes off at the Rescue Mission to make room in your closet for all the cool holiday gifts you are going to receive.  If that is going to be your charitable donation, make an attempt to understand how the organization benefits from your donation, how it supports programming and whether or not it aligns with your values.
  2. Donating money for a tax write-off.  While the organization will certainly appreciate your gesture, you will forgo the benefits described above.  Give to what you are passionate about.  The tax write-off will be an automatic value-ad.
  3. Count your existing church tithing as meeting your challenge.  It’s has been a while since I have been allowed to enter a church, but, from what I understand, tithing is an obligation and, in using it, you lose the “other-oriented” giving classification.
As we give, we practice gratitude.  Gratitude for service to our community in the name of public good.  We don’t live on islands.  We live in communities.  The kind of work that needs to be done in order to allow humanity to reach a higher level must be done together.