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Keeping the Beat – Heart Health

By on January 31, 2014

    Heart disease is an umbrella term for a variety of different diseases that affect the heart. It is the leading cause of death in Canadian adults. Although you lack the power to change some risk factors, such as family history and age, nine modifiable risk factors account for over 90% of the risk of a coronary event. These risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, diabetes, abdominal obesity, lack of exercise, alcohol excess, reduced intake of fruit and vegetables, and psychosocial issues (Jackson, 2008). Treatment of an individual risk factor can reduce heart disease risk by approximately 30%, whereas treatment of multiple risk factors can reduce the risk by more than 50% (Kostis, 2007). 

Don't Smoke or Use Tobacco Products
    Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease – as many as 30% of all heart disease deaths each year are attributable to cigarette smoking, with the risk being strongly dose-related. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals and many of these can damage the heart and blood vessels. Nicotine makes the heart work harder by narrowing the blood vessels, increasing the heart rate and blood pressure, and decreasing oxygen delivery to the heart. In addition, carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some oxygen in the blood and this increases your blood pressure by forcing your heart to work harder. 
    The good news is that when you quit smoking, the risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you will start reaping rewards as soon as you quit. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight
    Your body mass index (BMI) is a ratio of your weight to your height and it is used to diagnose weight problems within populations. Numbers of 25 and higher are independently associated with an increased risk of heart disease, as well as, higher blood lipids and blood pressure, and systemic inflammation (a promoter of heart disease) (Zalesin, 2008). Waist and waist-to-hip ratios are useful tools to measure how much abdominal fat you have. These measurements determine whether you have an “apple” or a “pear” shape – the apple shape has more belly fat than the pear and is considered more of a health concern. Research actually suggests that abdominal obesity is a better discriminator of cardiovascular risk than BMI (Lee, 2008). And just remember, even slight weight loss can lead to beneficial health effects.

Get More Active
    Evidence regarding the health benefits of physical activity is overwhelming! It can protect against a multitude of chronic health problems including heart disease. A sedentary lifestyle is considered by numerous international organizations to be one of the most important modifiable risk factors for heart disease. Epidemiological studies show approximately half the incidence of heart disease in active versus sedentary people (Prasad, 2009). 
    The good news is that even small increases in physical fitness are associated with significant reductions in risk. For example, studies show that two hours of moderate physical activity or an hour of vigorous physical activity every week will reduce your risk of heart disease by about 30% (Mackay, 2004). Guidelines recommend at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week.

Eat a Heart–Healthy Diet
    Eating a diet that is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and salt, and high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat protein sources, fiber, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products can help protect your heart. The “good” fats, however, are often neglected in heart-healthy diets. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can decrease your risk of heart attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure. If you do not like eating fish or are worried about the mercury levels, you can consider purchasing a high quality fish oil supplement containing eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to supply your body with the essential fatty acids it needs.

Get Regular Health Screens
    High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won't know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action. 
    
Angela MacNeil, ND, MSc is a Naturopathic Doctor with a Masters in Human Health and Nutritional Sciences.

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