Thursday, February 16, 2012

Heart Health

Did you know that February is American Heart Month?  Most of us probably were not even  aware of this.  So in my efforts to educate and inspire, I felt the need to write about how to improve our heart health.

"According to the American Heart Association, heart disease (including stroke) is the leading cause of death for both men and women.  In fact, heart disease kills an estimated 630,000 Americans each year".  I'm going to repeat this in case you think you misread it, heart disease kills an estimated 630,000 American each year!!!

The most common heart condition in the USA is coronary artery disease (CAD), which occurs when there is a build up of plaque in the coronary arteries.  As the plaque builds up in the arteries, it begins to thicken and harden, causing our arteries to become narrow which is known as atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis decreases the amount of blood that can be delivered to the heart, causing chest pain or discomfort.  Over time this will cause the heart muscle (yes the heart is a muscle) to weaken and can result in abnormal heart rhythms.  Even worse, if the arteries are completely blocked by plaque build up, it may result in a heart attack.  "Nearly half of all heart attacks happen to people who look to be in great shape", says Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen.

By now you may be asking yourself who is at risk (or am I at risk) for heart disease.  Some of the major risk factors for heart disease include:
    *those over age 50
    *family history of heart disease
    *a sedentary lifestyle
    *high blood pressure
    *elevated cholesterol levels
In order to prevent heart disease, you may have to make a lifestyle change or continue to live a healthy lifestyle.   To help reduce your risk of heart disease, try quitting smoking, begin to exercise regularly (minimum of 30 min. 3 times a week), and eat healthier meals that include less saturated fats.  In a recent  Danish study of 49,000 women, those who ate fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids were 90% less likely to have heart disease than the non-fish eaters.  Now that is an alarming statistic. 

"The United States Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a periodic lipid profile for men aged 35 and older and women 45 and older".  This is a blood test that measures your total cholesterol levels and highlights the amount of LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol.  Here is some useful cholesterol information to help you decide which foods you should eat and which to avoid.  Remember it's always best to discuss any changes with your doctor first.

Inflammation can also play a role in causing heart disease.  Inflammation can be caused by eating a poor diet; eating foods such as sugary foods (soda, pastries), and highly processed foods can increase the number of LDL cholesterol.  

Johnathon Fialkow, MD, FACC, FAHA, FABCL, Medical Director of EKG, Stress Lab and Cardiac Rehabilitation at the Baptist Cardiac and Vascular Institute in Miami, FL says that "any condition that causes inflammation can increase your risk of heart disease".  Here is a list of foods to eat that help minimize inflammation in the body.

    *Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
    *Minimize saturated fat intake (hydrogenated oils, whole fat dairy foods)
    *Eat plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, fish oil, Omega-3 eggs, flaxseed)
    *Limit refined carbohydrates (white rice, bread)
    *Eat plenty of lean protein foods (chicken, fish, turkey)
    *Avoid processed foods

If you are at risk of heart disease or know of someone who is at risk, exercise and strength training should be incorporated into your regular routine.  According to Dr. Michael Shapiro, Director of Preventative Cardiology, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Radiology at OHSU, "people with heart disease who do not exercise are taking a greater risk".   It's been proven that exercise improves your quality of life, gives you more energy, and decreases your risk of cancer, stroke, and osteoporosis.  What more motivation than that do we need to exercise?  If you are new to exercise you can start with 5 minutes and do it several times throughout the day (aim for a total of 30 minutes).  

So now that you have a better understanding of what foods help prevent heart disease and some of the risk factors that cause heart disease, let's all do our part to make this a very healthy American Heart Month.

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