The Second Half: Celebrating Heart Month in February

By Kathleen D.


February is Heart Month. Don’t confuse this with Valentine’s Day-Heart Month is intended to focus our attention on the big, beating muscle that keeps us alive. In honor of Heart Month, I decided to search for recommendations and see if I could learn something new about heart health.

First stop: the Heart Hospital at SwedishAmerican Hospital. Their Web site (www.swedi s h a /heart_hospital/) offers basic information about services and staff, and an online Health Assessment-try it! Their innovative services include Complementary Medicine and Client & Family Education, as well as state-of-the-art diagnostics and treatment.

I’m a big fan of these folks, especially Dr. Kotis, who saved Hubby’s life a couple of times. He performed a tiny miracle in the area of complementary and preventive medicine: he broke Hubby’s addiction to Diet Pepsi.

“Yeah, I know it’s hard,” the straight talking doc said. “But caffeine will kill you, so you gotta try new things. Wait…my wife got me started on this stuff…” He ran to his jacket, pulled out a little packet of instant green tea, and put it in Hubby’s hand, “Here, mix this in your water bottle-it’s good!”

I tried to introduce him to green tea-good for heart patients and anybody who likes their body. I served it hot and cold, weak and strong, with sugar and honey: No dice. If naked dancing girls handing out Twinkies and french fries asked him to try green tea, he wouldn’t have touched it. But Dr. K just gave him a look, handed him a sample from his own stash, and did the man-to-man thing-now I find little packets of instant, flavored, sugar-free tea in every shirt pocket and glove compartment. Like I said: “It’s a miracle!”

For you gals out there, Swede’s Center for Women offers a Healthy Heart Screening every first and third Tuesday of the month. Cost is only $25 (especially important for those of us uninsured or under-insured) and includes testing for cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure and a cardiac risk assessment. Sign up for this great deal by calling (815) 490-5863.

I did the whole annual check-up thing in December, just to establish a baseline. My numbers were good, but I’m a little hinky about my health. I want my numbers to be excellent! Since I’m losing weight, exercising, and eating better, I will cash in on the $25 dea in a couple of months, for comparison.

“Besides,” my Second-Half friend J.D. reminded me, “if your numbers don’t change after all this, you’ll know you can go back to doing what you really want…lay around and EAT!”

Seems counter-productive, but he’s got a good point-I’ll ponder that one later. Back to taking care of our hearts…the terrific Web site called SparkPeople was developed by Chris Downie, one of the early thinkers from eBay. Downie explains: “This site really is free-with no strings attached. Over 6 million people have joined SparkPeople to lose weight and make healthy lifestyle changes. … SparkPeople can be free because my wife and I were very early eBay employees and are now using our earnings from its success to make the world a healthier place. This is our way to give back and help the world. …SparkPeople is an easy program to follow-you can choose whatever pace fits your lifestyle. People tell me every day that this site has changed their life.”

SparkPeople issued a special calendar honoring Heart Month, with easy, practical tips for heart health each day of the month. Check it out at: calendar_2007-02.pdf. They don’t stop there, though-they issue a health topic calendar each month, just to motivate us, and you can get it sent to your e-mail for nothing. Pretty cool!

The February SparkPeople calendar reminds us to: “Slow down. Chronic stress exposes your body to elevated levels of stress hormones that can elevate blood pressure and contribute to weight gain.” They suggest, among other things, meditation and yoga.

To celebrate Heart Month, I’m committing to yoga and meditation. I tried to get a few of my Second-Half crowd to join me, but was met with resistance. Hubby said, “Sure, sounds good!” but he just can’t find the time right now, being busy with retirement and all.

Another friend said, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen-I’ll meditate at home in my pajamas after work, with a glass of wine and American Idol on TV.”

One skeptic told me, “I’m not paying forsomeone to tell me to sit still and breathe!” Of course, he takes medication for anxiety, so he’s not really a credible source.

My good friend Pat was more amenable: “I’m not ready for yoga, but I’d love to go to Meditation Class!”

Once a month, Lazy Dog Yoga Studio in Roscoe hosts guided meditation classes led by Bhante Sujatha, a Buddhist monk from the Blue Lotus Temple in McHenry County. He told us, “Quieting your mind in meditation is practice for the unpredictables in life.” For example, when the weather keeps me from an appointment, my first instinct is to get upset; then, the meditation technique kicks in, and I don’t let it stress my body and mind. If nothing else, it makes me nicer to be around.

The Insight Meditation classes are from 2 to 3 p.m. on the following dates:

Saturday, Feb. 13

Saturday, March 13

Saturday, April 10

Saturday, May 15

Saturday, June 12

The atmosphere in the class is serene, fragrant, with meditative music and hushed voices-all they need is chocolate, and I’d never go home! Go to for more. For my final recommendation in honor of Heart Month, I’ll just quote the Beatles: “Speaking words of wisdom: Let It Be.”

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an awardwinning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Feb. 10-16, 2010 issue

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