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Love Your Heart

Posted Feb 01 2010 3:50am
February is “Heart Month,” please love your heart. Let me count the ways:

1. DON’T SMOKE AND AVOID SECONDHAND SMOKE

Tobacco is the only legal consumer product that do more harm than good. Conclusive scientific evidence confirms that smokers face significant elevated risks of death from numerous cancers (particularly lung cancer), respiratory and heart diseases, stroke, and many other fatal diseases.

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke impose exceptional health risks on pregnant women, infants and children. Smoking during pregnancy is dangerous to the health of expectant mothers, potentially lethal to the fetus and infant, and may lead to lifelong health and developmental disorders among exposed children.

Tobacco is an addictive carcinogen that directly kills half of its users, as well as nonsmoking bystanders. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Quitting and avoiding secondhand smoke exposure reduce health risks and produce immediate and long-term health benefits.

2. MAINTAIN IDEAL BODY WEIGHT

Excess body weight is clearly linked to heart disease. People who are overweight or obese have a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or other lipid disorders, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers.

A good measure to evaluate weight and body fat is the Body Mass Index or BMI. It is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared (BMI = kg / m2). The BMI of 25 - 29.9 is overweight, while BMI of 30 and over is obese. Meanwhile, the BMI of 18.5 - 24.9 is considered normal weight.

For those with excess body weight, even a small weight loss will help lower the risk of developing diseases.

3. MONITOR BLOOD PRESSURE

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a major risk factor for kidney disease, stroke, heart disease and heart failure.

A blood pressure of 140/90 or higher is considered high. This is called hypertension. A blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called pre-hypertension. This means that you do not have hypertension, but you are likely to develop it in the future unless you adopt lifestyle changes to keep your blood pressure under control. Blood pressure less than 120/80 is normal.

4. BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

Lean and active people have the lowest risk of heart disease and obese and inactive people have the highest risk.

Physical activity need not be strenuous to be beneficial; people of all ages benefit from participating in regular, moderate-intensity physical activity, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week. These minutes may be accumulated during the day, for example, three 10-minute sessions of physical activity or two 15-minute sessions. However, one hour of continuous moderate physical activity or exercise most days of the week is ideal.

Experts advise people with chronic diseases, such as a heart condition, arthritis, diabetes or high blood pressure, to talk to their doctor about what types and amounts of activity are appropriate, before beginning a new physical activity program. Symptoms of particular importance to evaluate include chest pain (especially chest pain that is brought on by exertion), loss of balance (particularly if it leads to falls) dizziness and passing out (loss of consciousness).

5. MANAGE STRESS

Stressed out? Feeling out of control financially, emotionally or psychologically can affect not only your sleep but also your heart.

Medical researchers are not sure exactly how stress increases the risk of heart disease. Stress itself might be a risk factor, or it could be that high levels of stress make other risk factors (such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure) worse. For example, if you are under stress, your blood pressure goes up, you may overeat, you may exercise less and you may be more likely to smoke. Chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Studies also link stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of heart attack.

6. GET AT LEAST SEVEN HOURS OF SLEEP

Not per week, but every night. And men require eight. Getting by on less can cause metabolic changes that increase your risk for obesity and diabetes. The fewer hours of sleep adults get each night, the more likely they are to have calcium deposits in their arteries. Researchers also suspect the lack of sleep increases stress hormones, raises blood pressure, and affects blood sugar levels. However, keep your overall sleeping time to no more than nine hours because this can have a slightly increased risk of heart disease.

7. EAT FRUITS, VEGETABLES AND GRAINS

Vegetables, fruits and rootcrops and whole grains are generally good sources of dietary fiber. They help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Moreover, fiber-containing food helps provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories and may help in weight management. High-fiber food also prevents and treats constipation and hemorrhoids.

8. EAT FISH TWICE OR THREE TIMES A WEEK

Have it grilled, sautéed, baked, roasted or stewed, just eat fish twice or three times a week. Studies have found that people who eat fish regularly were regular less likely to have a heart attack or die of heart disease than those who ate fish only once a month. Moreover, regular fish consumption reduced the risk of atrial fibrillation -- rapid, irregular heartbeat -- a major cause of sudden death.

Omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, catfish, milkfish or tilapia has the ability to protect the heart.

9. LIMIT SALT

Consuming excess salt is one of the main causes of high blood pressure and other related heart diseases.

The first thing doctors advise a patient with heart disease is to limit salt intake. Salt contains elemental sodium and chloride. Excess salt intake will raise the level of sodium in the body, which is linked to increase water retention. This causes the heart to put in more effort in pumping blood and hence raises blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension is a causative factor in heart attacks and strokes. By this logic lowering salt intake would also lower heart disease risk.

10. AVOID TRANS FATS

There are three different kinds of dietary fat: saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. Saturated fats are those that stay hard at room temperature. Fatty parts of meat, whole milk dairy products, butter, palm and coconut oils are all highly saturated. On the other hand, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats remain liquid at room temperature and include vegetable oils.

Saturated fats are known to increase the body’s levels of blood cholesterol. Along with cholesterol, saturated fats can deposit on the inner walls of blood vessels; a condition known as atherosclerosis. When the heart’s arteries become clogged with cholesterol and fats, blood flow can be restricted or totally blocked, leading to severe chest pain and heart attack.

Meanwhile, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats actually have a cholesterol-lowering effect. By substituting polyunsaturated fats for the saturated fats in your diet, a person can actually help control cholesterol levels.

Then, there are the trans fats that are formed when liquid vegetable oils are converted into solids through a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils are used to increase the shelf life of foods and to improve their texture. Trans fats are most often found in fried foods, vegetable shortenings, hard margarine, and processed cookies, crackers, baked goods and chips.

Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not essential, and they do not promote good health. The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fat be reduced to trace amounts.

11. DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL

The effect of alcohol on health and heart disease is complex. For some people, even mild alcohol use carries major risks. For others, moderate alcohol use may offer a degree of protection. At this point, doctors are not sure if moderate drinking is good for the heart.

However, findings in recent years suggest that moderate alcohol consumption (wine or beer) does offer some protection against heart disease for some people. The suspected heart-related benefits of alcohol include: raises HDL, or “good” cholesterol level; lowers blood pressure; inhibits the formation of blood clots. The latter, however, can be good or bad – it may prevent heart attacks but could also increase the risk of bleeding.

But, until medical science knows more about the pros and cons of alcohol consumption, doctors do not recommend drinking alcohol specifically for better heart health.

12. BRUSH AND FLOSS

While the connection is not yet proven beyond a doubt, plenty of evidence points to dental disorders such as periodontal disease (disease of the gums and bones that support the teeth) and gum disease (also called gingivitis) having something to do with heart disease. The bacteria present in gum diseases may trigger blood clots which can contribute to a heart attack or stroke.

It is most beneficial to brush and floss your teeth everyday and visit the dentist at least twice a year, if not for the heart, at least for the freshness of the kiss a person gives a loved one.

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Photo from the Internet

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