by Dr. Don Rose,Writer, Life Alert
If there’s one thing everyone should really take to heart, it’s medical advice about the heart, one of our two most vital organs (the other being the brain, of course). So use your brain and read on. Since heart advice can at times be hard to swallow, this article aims to make such information easier to, well, digest -- by using a question-and-answer format.
How can I remember the most basic ways to help prevent heart disease?
Just remember your A-B-C. As in:
- Avoid tobacco
- Be more active
- Choose good nutrition.
What are the main risk factors that cause or help induce heart disease?
Heart disease tends to be more prevalent in people who exhibit certain behaviors (risks developing from our actions or inaction, like smoking and physical inactivity), and in people who have medical warning signs (risks developing from conditions we may have inherited, like diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure). The main risk factors:
- Smoking – cigarette smokers are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers. Plus, believe it or not, secondhand smoke also kills tens of thousands. Ask your pharmacist about ways to help you quit, including nicotine patches, gum and other smoking cessation products and programs – and if you don’t smoke, avoid smoky areas and activities that are full of smokers!
- Physical inactivity – evidence shows that physical activity strengthens the heart, improves circulation and helps control weight. More good news: just 30 minutes of moderate activity a day helps protect heart health. If starting, work your way up to that goal, since exerting too much effort too quickly is not optimal either.
- Excess Weight and Obesity – overweight women are much more prone to develop heart-related problems (in addition to diabetes and dangerous levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides). In contrast, diets low in sugar and fat, plus regular exercise, will help you maintain a healthy ticker.
- High cholesterol – as blood cholesterol levels increase, so does the risk of getting a stroke or heart attack, or suffering other life-threatening incidents. Cholesterol levels are affected by diet, heredity and age. Getting periodic tests is essential.
- High blood pressure – high blood pressure increases the workload of the heart, causing it to weaken over time. It also increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. High blood pressure usually has no obvious symptoms, but you can track your BP numbers at home with monitors, and many pharmacies have free automated machines that can measure BP as well.
- Diabetes – the risk of death from heart disease is up to four times higher in women with diabetes, even when glucose levels are under control. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of all people with diabetes -- yet only 1 in 3 diabetes patients consider it a serious risk. 
If I want to maintain or lose weight, how much should I exercise?
The AHA (American Heart Association) recommends that adults get a minimum of 30 minutes a day of physical activity, at least 5 days a week.
What is the best exercise to help my heart? Does it matter what workout I do?
Just do it, as a certain shoe company once said. Or, put another way, just do something. Feel free to be creative. Working out can take many forms, from walking the dog to jogging to running a marathon (although you might want to work up to that last one).
Almost any form of regular exercise will help your heart if it gets your heart rate up for a sustained amount of time. Just don’t overdo it; work up to longer and more intense workouts, because you don’t want to overload or strain your heart. Consult your doctor before embarking on any exercise regimen.
What is the best advice about diet to keep my heart healthy?
Strive to make “calories in” (eaten) less than “calories out” (expended via exercise). Make consumed calories count by eating only those foods with good nutritional value (i.e., maximum vitamins and minerals per calorie). Read labels, and avoid the temptation to sneak undesirable foods into your diet. If you do succumb to temptation, forgive yourself and get back on track. Consistency wins in the end. Don’t give up; you can do it!
Also: don’t overeat. Practice portion control. Staying trim by eating less keeps you from putting too great of a strain on your heart. If you are overweight, set small attainable weight loss goals. Strive to lose a pound a week until you reach your optimal weight.
What are the best vitamins for the heart?
Many of us regularly consume foods that don’t contain the nutrients needed by the heart to stay healthy. Some claim that supplements are needed to make up the difference. However, a March 2007 Prevention magazine article shared some discouraging news: “[a] 2006 Johns Hopkins review of 16 clinical trials found that neither antioxidants (C, E, beta-carotene, and selenium) nor B-vitamins (folate, B6, and B12) offered any protection against cardiovascular disease.” After consulting “several experts” there was agreement “that the jury is still out on whether taking more than the daily recommended dosage of certain vitamins really does – or doesn’t – benefit your heart.” Their advice: “skip large doses of these vitamins… and take a daily multivitamin.” In other words, when it comes to vitamins, moderation is the mode most likely to keep you healthy yet safe.
One supplement that did get a recommendation in Prevention, due to its “proven heart protection,” was fish oil. Suggested amount to take: 1,000 mg of omega-3 a day. Doing so “can help lower triglycerides and blood pressure, and prevent artery-clogging plaque.”
What are some essential facts about women and heart disease?
- Heart disease is the number one killer of women over 20
- 1 in 3 women have some form of cardiovascular disease
- A 10-year study showed that heart disease risk shot up a whopping fifty percent in women who regularly ate a lot of red meat (fish and chicken did not up the risk).
How can women learn more about their risk factors?
Visit the website GoRedForWomen.org and take a simple test.
What should I know about heart tests? Where can I learn more about them?
See Part 2 of this article.
The information provided above is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate. However, while Life Alert always strives to provide true, precise and consistent information, we cannot guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Readers are encouraged to research any statements made and use any resource links provided to gather more information before drawing conclusions and making decisions.
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