Feb. 1, 2023
By Hailey Kurtenbach
February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about heart disease and to encourage individuals to take steps to protect their heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. The good news – it’s preventable and controllable through lifestyle change and early detection.
Caring for our heart goes further than physical health. Our mental wellbeing plays a role, too. Research shows that people with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety have an increased risk of heart disease. For example, chronic stress can lead to the release of stress hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline) which can increase heart rate and blood pressure. This can cause inflammation in the body and damage to the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart disease. Heart-pounding stuff!
Getting involved in the community can be an effective way to manage stress, improve overall mind and body health, and take care of your most important internal organs. By engaging with organizations and causes that are near and dear to your heart, you are likely to gain:
- Sense of Purpose: Being part of a community and contributing to a cause that is important to you can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment, which can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Support System: Community involvement can provide opportunities to connect with others and develop a sense of belonging. Having a strong social support system can help to buffer against stress and improve overall mental health.
- Physical Activity: Getting up and moving for community or volunteer events, like a conservation workday or local walk-a-thon, will get your heart and soul pumping.
- Mindfulness: Be present and in the moment while giving back to causes you care about most. Embody a meditative mindset (except perhaps when volunteering with keiki…)
Getting involved not only gives you the chance to make a positive impact on the people and places around you, but you also get to meet new friends and develop useful skills. Here are a few tips on how you can get more involved within the O‛ahu community.
Identify your interests and passions
What are you passionate about? Are you interested in environmental issues, education, or social justice? Finding a cause that aligns with your values and interests will make it more likely that you will enjoy and stick with your volunteer work. Take a peek at the wide-ranging opportunities within the AUW Volunteer Portal for a few ideas.
Research local organizations
Once you have identified your interests, research local organizations that align with them. Many nonprofits have websites that list their mission, upcoming events, and volunteer opportunities. AUW has over 300 nonprofit partners that you can explore, descriptions and all – check out our current Partner Agency Booklet!
Attend community events
Community events, such as educational seminars, fairs, and town hall meetings, are a great way to learn about what's happening in your community and to meet other people who are also interested in getting involved.
Make a plan
Once you have identified organizations and events that align with your interests, make a plan to attend meetings and events. Also, try to set aside a specific time each week to volunteer or work on community projects. Small donations of your time make a big difference within the community!
Don't be afraid to ask for help
Building community takes time and effort. Don't be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, and neighbors. They may have good recommendations on events and organizations that you should check out.
Finally, be open to new opportunities
Getting involved in your community can open doors to new experiences and connections. Keep an open mind and be open to new opportunities as they arise. Keep up with Aloha United Way on our blog, and stay in the loop with nonprofit announcements, events, and news on our social media channels.
It may feel overwhelming at first, but over time you will develop a deeper connection with the community and within yourself. (Your heart may even grow a few sizes, if that community is Whoville!) Giving back to local nonprofit organizations through in-kind donations and volunteerism is a great place to start taking care of your heart. If you need help taking the first step, the 211 Statewide Helpline can help connect you to opportunities near you.
AUW nonprofit partner, The American Heart Association (AHA) is leading the charge in Hawai‛i for promoting the importance of health health, and providing valuable information and resources to help people build heart-healthy lifestyle habits. Join the heart health movement by getting regular check-ups and screenings, and sharing information about heart disease with loved ones.
Throughout the month of February, there will be various events, campaigns, and educational programs to raise awareness about heart disease and to encourage individuals to take action to protect their hearts. This includes National Wear Red Day, an annual event on the first Friday in February, where individuals are encouraged to wear red to raise awareness about heart disease in women. Let’s all band together to protect our heart health, and make a difference within the community!