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10 steps to a healthier heart

THE heart is a hollow muscular organ that is located in the center of the chest.

“The heart’s only function is to pump blood,” says The Merck Manual of Medical Information.  “The right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs, where oxygen is added to the blood and carbon dioxide is removed from it.  The left side pumps blood to the rest of the body, where oxygen and nutrients are delivered to tissues and waste products are transferred to the blood for removal by other organs (such as the lungs and kidneys).”

hf01-111616Gender wise, men are more prone to heart disease than women.  “Based on statistics, men also die earlier than women,” notes Dr. Willie T. Ong, author of How to Live Longer: Practical Health Tips from a Heart Doctor. “Our life expectancy is on the average 5 years shorter than females.”

The reasons for this are two-fold: genetics and lifestyle.  “It has long been known that being a male is a risk factor for heart disease,” Ong explains.  “This is especially true if one or both of your parents have heart disease.”

Some experts attribute the difference between men and women to behavioral and cultural factors. “Men are expected to work more and thus have to handle more stress and pressure,” says Ong.  “They are also responsible for earning for the whole family.  Young men are being groomed by society to be ‘macho’ and to hide their emotions.”

In addition, more men smoke, drink alcohol and abuse drugs than women. “Men also have greater fear of doctors than women, thus they see a doctor when it’s too late already,” Ong says.

Whether you are a man or woman, there are 10 things you can do to make your heart healthier.  That’s according to Dr. Michael F. Roizen.  In an article which appeared in Reader’s Digest, he wrote: “Even if you follow just the first seven tips (and don’t smoke, of course), you’ll reduce by as much as 90 percent compared to a typical person your age!”

1 Walk, don’t run.  “Walking a half hour a day decreases the risk of having a heart attack by about 30 percent,” Roizen wrote.  “I’ve found if you succeed at walking daily, you can also succeed at doing other things to improve your health.  If you skip, you’ll start compromising your health in other ways too.”

Aside from walking, Roizen that aside from walking, you have to call someone.  “Calling someone every day is crucial; that’s the real commitment,” he explained.  “Find a person who’s supportive and will not nag but will call if you haven’t called her.  And by the way, it usually is a ‘her.’ Men tend to be lousy at this!”

2 Know your blood pressure and keep it low.  “Your blood pressure number may be even more important than your cholesterol,” Roizen said.  “Do whatever it takes to get it down to 110/75.”  And you can accomplish this by getting a little exercise and losing some belly fat.

“The omentum is what hangs over the stomach,” he wrote.  “The fat that’s stored there feeds the kidney, liver and other vital organs.  But when you gain weight, you add fat inside the relatively rigid ‘kidney capsule.’  This fat pushes on the kidney and more blood pressure is needed to drive blood through. So it releases hormones that cause increased blood pressure.  When you lose a little of that fat, you blood pressure goes down really fast.”

3 Go nuts!  Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients.  They are a great snack food as nuts are inexpensive, easy to store and easy to pack when you’re on the go. “People who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in their blood,” points out the Mayo Clinic. “High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease.”

Eating nuts—especially those that are raw, fresh and unsalted—“may reduce your risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack,” the Mayo Clinic adds. “Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of your arteries.”

 4 Learn your HDL number.  HDL—high-density lipoprotein—is the exact opposite of LDL.  If you have to lower your blood pressure, in HDL you have to raise it—up to 50.  “For women, some believe in high HDL is more important than a lower LDL,” Roizen wrote.  “We have no idea why, but study after study shows that the higher the number, the better.”

5 Choose tomato sauce over other ketchups. Eating tomato ketchup every day can significantly help your heart, according to a research done by Finnish scientists.  Those who volunteered for the study added a few dollops of ketchup to their breakfast, lunch and tea, or drank a few glasses of tomato juice, saw their LDL levels drop significantly in the space of just three weeks.

“The changes we saw can be regarded as significant, considering that the time period was only three weeks and all the volunteers had normal cholesterol levels to start with,” the researchers wrote in their finding, which was published in theBritish Journal of Nutrition.

Dr. Roizen suggested eating 10 tablespoons of tomato sauce a week.  “Tomato sauce is loaded with blood-pressure-slashing potassium,” he wrote.

6 Floss your teeth regularly.  “Flossing once a day reaches the 35 percent of the mouth that can’t be reached by brushing alone and is vital protection against swollen, red and bleeding gums that can later lead to periodontal disease,” wrote Angela Downdon in an article which appeared in London’s Express.

According to researchers from the Bristol University, bacteria can enter the bloodstream via sore gums and deposit a clot-forming protein that raises heart disease risk. A link between gum and heart problems has long been recognized but it has always been unclear if poor oral health was simply a marker of other heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and being a smoker.

“Now it seems regular flossing may directly reduce cardiovascular risk,” says Dr. Payman Langroudi, a dentist with Enlighten Smiles.

7 Minimize your intake of saturated fat and trans fat.  “Eat no more than 20 grams of saturated fat a day ad as little trans fat as possible,” Dr. Roizen said.  The reason: “Saturated fats and trans fat lead to inflammation in the arteries.  One cinnamon roll may have seven grams of saturated fat.  A 113-gram slice of roast pork tenderloin has about four grams.  Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils), found in many processed and baked foods, are probably at least as bad as saturated fats, and may a little worse.”

8 Watch your sugar intake.  Getting too much added sugar in your diet could significantly increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they’re processed or prepared.  They include: sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, candy, ready-to-eat cereals and yeast breads, but not naturally occurring sugar, such as in fruits and fruit juices.  They have long been cited for contributing to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

9 Drink wine or beer.  Drinking two glasses of red wine a day can prevent heart attacks, according to Dr. William McCrea, an English cardiologist at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon.

In a research he conducted, he found that that the antioxidant properties of the red wine have reduced the risk of a second heart attack in his patients by half – and the risk of a stroke by 20 per cent. The wine, he said, prevents clots from developing inside the arteries, raises good cholesterol, and it causes dilatation of the arteries.

If you can’t afford wine, you may opt to drink beer.  In fact, beer has overtaken red wine as the best daily habit to help avoid having a heart attack, according to research.  The secret is thought to lie in the high levels of vitamin B6 found in beer which prevent the build-up of a harmful chemical in the body, homocysteine, known to cause heart disease.

“Drinking up to three quarters of a pint of beer a day—the equivalent of 40 ml of alcohol—was found to increase B6 in blood plasma by 30 percent,” wrote Beezy Marsh in an article published in London’s Daily Mail.

10 Eat fruits and vegetables.  “Nine servings of colorful fruits and vegetables a day,” Roizen suggested.  Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber—and they’re low in calories.  Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and blood pressure—thus making your heart healthy, too.

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