Healthy & Strong Heart
Heart disease is the number one killer in the world, each year 18 million people die from heart disease worldwide. One reason the statistics are so high, by the time heart disease symptoms show, either a heart attack or stroke, it is already too late.
Your risk for heart disease can be determined by a number of metabolic risk factors. The more metabolic risk factors you have, the higher your risk that you will have heart disease. Recognizing and addressing your metabolic risk factors will help you on your path to a healthy heart. Metabolic risk factors include:
- Abdominal obesity - People who carry excess abdominal fat around their midsection, a “beer belly” or "spare tire" tend to have a higher risk of heart disease when compared to people who have stored body fat elsewhere.
- High blood pressure - High blood pressure leads to hypertensive heart disease. The heart must work against increased pressure causing a variety of heart disorders including heart failure, thickening of the heart muscle and coronary artery disease.
- High LDL (bad) cholesterol - High low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, is a major cause of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. LDL causes the build-up of fatty deposits within your arteries, reducing or blocking the flow of blood and oxygen.
- Low HDL (good) cholesterol - High-density lipoprotein, or HDL reduces harmful LDL. In regard to HDL cholesterol, higher levels are actually better while low levels of HDL cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease.
- High blood glucose - High blood glucose (sugar) and the resulting diabetes can damage your blood vessels and nerves that control your heart and blood vessels.
People with metabolic risk factors or those who are genetically predisposed to heart disease can follow some simple guidelines that decrease their chances of a heart attack. Here are four simple steps toward maintaining a strong, healthy heart:
Stop Smoking - Smoking damages heart and lung tissue and increases high blood pressure. Chemicals in tobacco smoke irritate the circulatory system, causing inflammation in the arteries and increase your blood pressure. If you smoke, the number one step to maintaining a healthy heart is to stop.
Brush And Floss - Increasing research suggests a strong link between gum disease, tooth decay and atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease. Healthy oral hygiene habits for your mouth are also good for your heart. The oral bacteria that causes gingivitis in your mouth also harm blood vessels or cause blood clots by releasing toxins that resemble proteins found in artery walls. The American Heart Association found that inflammation caused by periodontal disease can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. Visit your dentist, get your cavities taken care of and preserve your teeth as missing teeth are another indicator that your heart may be in trouble.
- Clean Up Your Diet - Diet is a major factor that affects the health of your heart. Foods shown to be good for the heart include those that are high in omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, fresh fish, and olive oil. Also good for your heart are high fiber whole grains, fresh vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and tomatoes. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants that promote healing. Choose more anti inflammatory and cholesterol reducing foods as they will go a long way toward maintaining a healthy heart.
Your heart healthy diet should include: Lean meats and skinless poultry, fresh vegetables and leafy greens, foods high in soluble fiber like oatmeal, beans and peas, barley, and many fruits and vegetables (apples, oranges, and carrots) and low fat or fat free dairy products.
Avoid high fat and fried foods, foods with added sugar, foods high in dietary cholesterol. Try to prepare your meals without added salt, saturated fat, and trans fats and limit your alcohol intake to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
If you need something sweet, try dark or bittersweet chocolate. Dark chocolate is high in healthy antioxidants and has been shown to help lower high blood pressure. Dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) relaxes arteries and increases their flexibility for healthy blood flow, while satisfying your desire for a sweet treat.
- Regular, Moderate Exercise - A healthy heart and a strong cardiovascular system requires exercise. Running, biking, swimming or brisk walking helps to burn excess fat while strengthening your heart and lungs. Aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise causes you to breathe more rapidly and deeply. It forces your heart work harder to pump blood and raises your heart rate (which burns calories). While lowering your risk for heart disease, exercise also keeps your body weight down and improves your mood. Choose an exercise or exercises that you will enjoy and that you’ll stick with.
Maintaining a healthy heart provides additional benefits:
- You’ll look and feel better. Improving cardiovascular health will greatly improve your overall health and fitness.
- You’ll be more active and have more energy. You will have increased the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your body. You’ll be lighter and with new energy, you’ll be more active and mobile.
- You’ll save money as the new, healthy you will have reduced the medical costs associated with treating heart disease and obesity. You can avoid these costs by ensuring your heart stays healthy enabling you to spend that money you save on things that you enjoy, like healthy food and your gym membership.
- You’ll live a longer, healthier and happier life. Not guaranteed, but a healthy heart, lowered blood pressure and more efficient cardiovascular system can help you live longer. A strong, healthy heart in peak condition can improve your odds for living longer and getting more out of life.
- You’ll be smarter. Your new healthy lifestyle and healthy heart will increase the flow of blood to your brain. More blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients to all areas of your brain, improving its performance. Heart health and cardiovascular exercise also stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in your brain, as well as the growth of existing brain cells. Both memory and overall thinking ability will be improved.
When discussing heart health, it is also necessary to know and recognize the signs and symptoms that your heart may not be healthy. A heart attack may be preceded by signals from your body that should be discussed with a doctor or may require immediate attention and a call to 911. Some of the indicators include:
- Chest pain (angina) often accompanied by radiating pain from your jaw to your left arm.
- Shortness of breath and the inability to “catch” your breath.
- Pain, tingling, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms. Most often caused by narrowing blood vessels in those parts of your body.
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness, fainting or near fainting.
- Constant swelling of your ankles, hands or feet.
- Sudden fatigue, often accompanied by sweating.
If you (or a loved one) experience these conditions, remain calm, and have them sit or lie down. If there is no known allergy to aspirin, have the person chew and swallow a baby aspirin. Aspirin thins the blood and works faster when chewed and not swallowed whole. If the heart stops or the person stops breathing, call 911 and perform CPR right away.