Wellness in the Heart of Winter

I lie in bed, wide awake, unsure of what stirred me from my sleep. My watch displays 5:00 am, an hour before my alarm is scheduled to ring. Feeling my heart’s steady rhythm in my chest, I opt for an early start, fearing the loss of a natural wakefulness if I return to sleep. I quietly slip on my running sneakers and set out for a jog. Dry leaves crunch beneath my feet as I softly close my front door behind me. The moon glows on the horizon, visible for a brief moment more before disappearing until tomorrow. A rush of cold air touches my face like a splash of cool water, chilling but refreshing. Winter has arrived. I turn onto my street and settle into a steady pace. The sound of footsteps echoes off the houses. My body groans and creaks, but my heart understands the task at hand and begins to thump faster without objection.

The heart is a remarkable muscle.

The heart begins beating 6 weeks after conception, and will beat continuously until one’s last breath. Around 50 million gallons of blood pass through the heart’s four chambers over the average lifetime, enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every year. This blood not only delivers oxygen to every cell in your body, but also brings nutrients from the digestive system and collects waste products for removal.

Despite its vital role, the heart’s significance renders it a vulnerability, and even this resilient organ has its limits. Heart disease is a leading cause of death worldwide. Nearly 700,000 Americans succumb to heart disease each year, and many more experience a decline in the quality of life due to a damaged heart. Coronary artery disease is a narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. It can significantly affect the heart’s optimal function and can cause the heart to falter in the form of a heart attack.

Preventive measures, lifestyle changes, and timely medical interventions are pivotal in reducing the risk of heart-related issues and improving overall heart health. Under the discomfort of exercise lies a crucial tool in the fight against heart disease. Engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking or doing yoga) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (such as running) per week can reduce the risk of heart disease by approximately 20-30%. Research shows that individuals who were previously sedentary and then began engaging in regular physical activity significantly decreased their risk of heart disease, sometimes by as much as 50% compared to those who remained inactive. Perhaps, I ponder as I plod along the road, all this effort is indeed worthwhile.

I look down at my watch and see my heart rate steadily increasing along with my pace: 140 beats per minute, 150, 160.

A feeling of calm and gentle awareness comes over my body as the discomfort of the first mile dissipates. My journey continues, leading me onto First Street and into the glow of downtown Benicia. I am greeted by a few other early risers donning headlamps and reflective clothing, each on their own journey to heart health. In their company, I feel a resonating energy, not only from their vigor but also from the historical aura emanating from this street.

First Street is the beating heart of our small-town community. As I pass through empty intersections, I reflect on all the memories made on First Street in just my short time being a resident of this small town. Parades, art and wine walks, bustling farmers markets, and firework shows. Familiar shops and restaurants fly past, each representing hopes, dreams, and hours of dedication from the owners.

Yet, just like one’s heart, preserving the vitality of this thoroughfare, the heart of our community, demands ongoing effort.

Online retailers present new corporate competition; the aftermath of contentious pandemic times lingers in fractured communities; stay-at-home habits picked up during covid lockdowns endure. Earlier this year, small business sentiment fell to a 10-year low. As Katherine May in her book “Wintering” beautifully reflects, “We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.” Despite these recent challenges, the pulse of First Street feels more vibrant than ever.

As I reach the end of First Street I’m met by the first signs of the rising sun along the Benicia waterfront. I harbor a profound gratitude for the blessing of a healthy heart and a nurturing place I call home. Reflecting on my journey through the quiet streets and the warmth of my community’s beating heart, I am struck by the parallel between nurturing our own heart’s well-being and tending to the heart of our town. Just as taking care of our physical health involves dedication, persistence, and mindful choices, so does preserving the vibrancy of our community. It’s in the collective effort to cultivate a thriving and supportive environment that we discover the strength to overcome challenges, promote resilience, and foster a brighter future. In caring for both our individual hearts and the heart of our community, we sow the seeds for a healthier, more connected, and vibrant existence.

Five Ways I’m Improving my Heart Health this Winter while Supporting Local

Stay Active

Take a fitness class at one of our fabulous gyms and fitness studios such as The Elevate Co., Benicia Health and Fitness Club, the Training Loft, Benicia Fitness, Jazzercise, or meet up with Benicia Run Club (@beniciarunclub) for a group jog.

Healthy Eating and Hydration

Fuel up with fresh juice or kombucha from Juice House Co., or get some great nutrients from Freshly Rooted Tribe’s Irish Sea Moss. Try the vegetarian menu at Aung MayLika for delicious and heart-healthy eating.

Manage Stress

Join a yoga class, get a massage, or find a quiet place to just sit and meditate. The City maintains many benches along our waterfront that provide a serene space.

Maintain Social Connections

Catch up with old friends at the First Street Christmas Tree Lighting and Open House. Meet new people at First Street’s “shop small” events.

Adequate Sleep

Establish a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.