Friday, November 25, 2011
Heart Health: Everything You Need to Know
There are so many factors that contribute to heart health-even more than often advertised. Yes, we know of the usual genetics and overall health, but there are a great many things that you can do to improve your heart health-things that may even override those factors which you cannot control-heredity, environmental factors, etc.
First, let us look at those factors which are beyond our control. You cannot very well control your family's medical history, or your genes. If you have a family history of heart disease, you are automatically on a course to develop the disease yourself. However, much of the reason that multiple generations in a family have a particular condition is that the family chooses lifestyle habits that make them more prone to a certain disease. These lifestyle habits are learned by the kids in the family, who in turn teach their kids, and the pattern continues. So while you cannot control your family's lifestyle choices or medical history, you can choose to life more healthily today than your parents did in the past. You can choose to reverse those bad eating habits and lifestyle habits of your youth, and live better today.
Your gender is another thing that cannot truly be changed. We all know that certain operations can alter the appearance of a person, and seem to alter their gender, but the chromosomes and DNA which either makes you a man or a woman will never suddenly reverse. Men have been shown to have higher incidences of heart attack than women, and they also have the heart attacks earlier in life than do women. Therefore, men must especially watch their heart health, even earlier in life, to ensure a long, healthy life. Women, on the other hand, while they have heart attacks less frequently than men, and later on in life than men, have a higher chance of dying from those heart attacks, especially after menopause. So it is also equally important for women to carefully watch their heart health and choose healthy lifestyle choices.
Heredity is the last factor that is unchangeable. Like it or not, we cannot change from African descent to French, or from Norwegian descent to Mexican. Certain nationalities have sometimes shown a predilection for certain conditions and diseases. For example, those of Asian or Caucasian descent have a lower chance of developing heart disease as opposed to people of Mexican, Polynesian, and Native American descent. African Americans have an increased risk of high blood pressure when compared to Caucasian Americans, and thus have a higher chance of developing heart disease. This factor, heredity, cannot be changed, but at the same time, it may be the lifestyle of those nationalities which increases their risk of disease. An excellent example of this is the Japanese, who typically have lower blood pressure and chances of heart disease than Americans. This is usually accredited to their high intake of sea vegetables, which are among the healthiest foods available.
Now that you know the unchangeable factors of heart disease in your life, it is important to focus on what you can do to prevent or treat heart disease.
Heart failure is the final result of heart disease, but there are many signs and conditions that will show themselves before heart failure occurs. Among these are high blood pressure, or hypertension; obesity; high cholesterol levels; and diabetes. These symptoms, or conditions, are now being grouped together and called "Syndrome X". Syndrome X is being exploited as an incurable, unpreventable disease that Americans develop, and which requires drugs to heal. That simply isn't the case, though. All of those conditions are preludes to heart disease, and through healthy lifestyle and eating habits are very preventable and treatable.
Most likely, the first thing you will need to do is to lose weight. Almost 90 million American adults are considered obese, which is having a BMI of 30 or higher. That doesn't include the millions of American adults who are overweight, or those who have a BMI of 25 or higher, which is estimated at 30% of the population. Seventeen percent of adolescents are considered overweight as well. So out of the approximately 300 million Americans currently residing in the United States, 180 million of them are either overweight or obese. This figure is well over half of all Americans. With this enormous number of Americans overweight, or extremely overweight, not only are diseases on the rise, but the lifestyle of Americans in changing drastically as well. On a whole, we are becoming more sedentary, less active, and yet eat more than necessary. The growing number of office or internet based jobs are supporting the sedentary lifestyle of Americans, and in a country that hardly ever stops, fast food, high in calories and deficient in nutrients, is supporting the obesity rate as well.
A change needs to occur in order to promote longevity in the lives of Americans. The old mantra, eat less, exercise more, can be very unappealing, but can literally save your life, by helping you to shed those extra pounds, strengthen your heart and lungs, and improve blood circulation. The fact is, though, that you cannot simply "eat less", you must eat better. That means less fatty, "junk" foods, and more whole grains, vegetables, lean meats and fruit. Do you ever wonder why this is important, though? If it provides your body with energy, why would it matter what it is made of, right? The truth is that there are many different components to nutrition, and everything you eat should be for a purpose.
The foods you eat should promote alkalinity. A byproduct of every single function in cells and of cells is acid. Acid, though, will harm your cells if left in the body. To counteract this, it is important to eat lots of alkaline foods, as alkalinity is the opposite of acidity. As you put more alkaline foods into your body, the alkalinity will counteract the acidity and cause a balance in your body. If you put acidic foods into your body, such as coffee, soda, fried foods, etc, then the acid will only build up and cause sickness. As a natural preventative to acid destroying cells, the body builds special fat cells which hold the acid away from other cells and organs, thus protecting your body. However, when your body protects you in this way, it is increasing the number of fat cells, which promotes weight gain. Eating lots of green, chlorophyll-heavy foods is an effective tool against fighting acidity in the body.
The foods you eat should promote muscle gain. It is important to eat lean, low fat meats in order to give your body the amino acids it needs to build muscle. That's not to say that if you are not concerned with having big muscles you should avoid meat. Having muscle in the body is beneficial not only with movement and strength within the body, but also with fat burning, as having more muscle will result in a higher metabolic rate. Having more muscle promotes a leaner look, while keeping you strong and fit.
The foods you eat should promote cellular activity. Cells, as the foundation upon which your body is made, need to be healthy in order to complete the various necessary tasks to keep your body functioning and healthy. Cells do everything for your body, including receiving nutrition, helping to excrete waste, participating in enzymatic reactions. If you think your organs do much for you, just remember that your organs are made of cells, and thus, it is really your cells working together that allows your body to function properly.
In addition to adopting more healthy eating habits, it is important to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Note, daily, not weekly. You should be getting about thirty minutes of exercise every day in some form, whether it be strength training, cardio exercise, or aerobics. You should be rotating the type of exercise you do every day. For example, you might do aerobics and strength training with your arms on one day, cardio and stretching the next, and aerobics with leg strength training the next. Keep rotating so as to get three or four days of aerobics a week as well as strength training with every part of your body at least once a week.
We do not only strength training, but also aerobics, cardio, and stretching for a reason. If you only did strength training, day after day, sure, you may have great muscles and a high metabolism, but you will also have very weak lungs and a weak heart, which in the end will not benefit you much at all. For that reason, we incorporate many difference exercise techniques into the routine, to keep your body's overall health at an optimum. Exercise benefits your overall body in numerous ways, not only building your stamina and endurance, but helping to lower your cholesterol, fight diabetes and high blood pressure, and reduce overall body weight.
Diet and exercise are two factors that need to be carefully watched when heart health is a concern. Today, however, much of America's food, even fresh food, is almost nutritionally empty. It is for this reason that many people are deficient in necessary vitamins and minerals. In fact, a great majority of Americans are nutritionally deficient. You may want to consider using supplements to keep your body healthy. Vitamins that you would normally be getting through your food that are great for heart health include vitamin E, C, and B. Studies have shown that those who supplement with vitamin E show a 40% decrease in chance of developing heart disease. This is due not only to the fact that vitamin E is an antioxidant, but it also keeps blood cells from "sticking" to each other and clogging arteries, and also prevents artery damage. It is important to remember that vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, and therefore depends on fat to be absorbed. This isn't to say that you should eat a hamburger with your vitamin E supplement, but taking the supplement when eating a meal that uses olive oil or another "healthy fat" is beneficial. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that works with Vitamin E and keeps blood vessels healthy. It also raises HDL cholesterol and lowers LDL cholesterol. Vitamin B is another vitamin which helps to control cholesterol levels in the body.
While vitamins are essential to health, the truth is that minerals are even more needed by the body. Not only can vitamins not be used without the aid of minerals, but minerals by themselves work wonders in the body. Undoubtedly the most important mineral for heart health is magnesium, which is actually known as the heart mineral. Magnesium helps to prevent heart disease by preventing diabetes, improving cholesterol, and preventing heart attacks. Magnesium helps to prevent hypertension by relaxing the smooth muscle surrounding the blood vessel walls, keeping arteries open, and magnesium works with potassium to lower blood pressure as well. Magnesium helps to prevent blood clots, and lower the risk of stroke. A lack of magnesium can result in heart arrhythmias. Magnesium also helps to improve heart health by relieving overall stress in the body. All in all, magnesium is a great mineral for heart health, and is, in fact, the most important mineral in preventing cardiovascular disease.
Selenium is also an important mineral for heart health, as it acts as an antioxidant in the body. Selenium, in addition, is a component of an enzyme which helps to protect arterial walls. Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium work together as electrolytes to regulate blood pressure and keep your blood healthy.
When looking to improve your heart health, what is not put in your body is just as important as what is put in your body. Smoking is something that many people engage in, and yet is quite probably the most harmful thing you could do to your body. Smoking decreases oxygen in the blood, restricting oxygenation to body tissues, which will, in time, kill those tissues. Let's not forget that tissues compose muscles, and the heart is a muscle, so by smoking you are slowly killing your heart muscle. It is vital that if you do smoke, you stop today, in order to improve your health and start reversing the effects of smoking.
All of these things-heredity, gender, lifestyle, diet, supplementation- affect your chances of developing heart disease. In order to prevent cardiovascular disease and improve your heart health, it is important to take charge, to do research and know what your body needs for optimum health, and then do act upon that knowledge to better your heart health today.