Heart Health

Knowing what you can and cannot control is an important step in managing your health at any age.

Many years of research have provided vital insights into why heart disease begins, and more importantly, how its risk factors can be minimized and overcome. 
Some risk factors are beyond our control, while others involve relatively simple lifestyle changes that can make substantial strides in improving our overall health. To achieve a healthier way of life, you should begin to differentiate between the areas of your life in which you can make changes, as compared to those factors you can't change.
Risk Factors You Can't Change
Your parents. They gave you a gene pool that may have included a predisposition to a coronary artery disease. Did either of your parents or any siblings have a heart attack before 55 years of age (male) or 65 years (female)? If so, you may have inherited these genes. 
Your age. The older we get, the more likely we are to have less elastic, more fat clogged arteries.
Your sex. Men and women alike develop coronary artery disease. It remains the biggest cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Women seem to develop symptomatic heart disease (heart attack, angina, etc.) 10 to 15 years later than men. The average age at which men begin to show symptoms of heart disease is 50 to 60, while for women the average age is 60 to 70 years. 
Women appear to be protected by hormones against developing coronary heart disease prior to menopause, but after menopause quickly catch up with men. 
Risk Factors You Can Change
Control Your Cholesterol. A fat-like, waxy substance called cholesterol is found in animal tissue. It is present in foods from animal sources such as whole milk dairy products, meat, fish, poultry, and egg yolks. An estimated 400 to 500 milligrams or more of cholesterol is ingested each day in the average American diet. Cholesterol is also produced in your body—primarily your liver—in varying amounts, usually about 1,000 milligrams a day. 
Cholesterol is essential for producing new cells and manufacturing certain hormones. There are basically two major types, High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) and Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL). It is believed that HDL picks up cholesterol and brings it back to the liver for reprocessing. Some researchers believe that HDL may also remove excess cholesterol from fat gorged cells. Because HDL clears cholesterol out of the system, HDL is often called "good cholesterol". LDL, on the other hand, is considered "bad" because it deposits itself along artery walls as it travels from the liver to the cells of the body. 
Through a combination of exercise and improved eating habits, you can lower your cholesterol level. Your doctor may advise you to have periodic cholesterol testing to keep track of the progress you are making. 
Lower Your Blood Pressure. The measurement of the force of your blood against your artery walls as your heart contracts (beats) and relaxes is your blood pressure. If you have "high blood pressure," it means that your heart has to work harder to deal with the extra pressure of the blood coursing through your arteries. 
You can help lower your blood pressure by following your prescribed treatment and taking your medicine according to direction. Because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, many people stop taking medications that keep pressure in check. A low salt diet is prescribed to reduce the amount of fluid the heart has to pump. 
Keeping track of blood pressure is easy with a home blood pressure monitor. 
Lose Weight. Many of us are overweight. Extra pounds make the heart work harder. Being overweight not only makes your heart pump harder, it can raise blood pressure, constrict your lungs, and make your body require more oxygen. 
Control Diabetes. Millions of Canadians are living with Diabetes, and the number keeps growing. Approximately 10 percent have Type 1, that is, they are insulin dependent. Their bodies produce little or no insulin. Insulin regulates the utilization of glucose in the body. Approximately 90 percent of people with diabetes have Type 2. They are non-insulin dependent. Their bodies produce insulin but do not use it properly. If you have either Type 1 or 2 diabetes, your diet, exercise and weight management play an extremely important part in preventing complications. Type 2 diabetes may be managed or controlled by diet, weight loss and exercise. 
Exercise. Regular exercise prescribed for you by your physician and cardiac rehabilitation specialists is one of the most powerful ways to improve your heart function. The American Heart Association regards physical inactivity as the fourth major risk factor for coronary artery disease. 
Regular exercise will increase your endurance, help to lower your blood pressure, control your weight and will give you an overall sense of well-being. It may also increase the "good" HDL cholesterol and decrease triglycerides in your blood stream. Remember that even exercises done in bed or in a chair can be beneficial. As you regain your strength, your exercise routine will be increased. 
Follow your doctor's instructions for any and all medications! 
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