Hardworking heart benefits from a healthy diet and lifestyle
By: Dana Malkovich, M.D.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. If that statistic isn’t enough to make you sit up and take notice, consider this: your heart beats a steady, even rhythm of about 60 to 100 times per minute every day of your life. If we take an average of about 70 beats per minute, which equals 4,200 beats an hour, and over 100,000 beats each day! In a life span of 70 years, your heart will beat over 2.5 billion times. When you consider this, its obvious that the heart truly is an amazing organ.
The heart relies on arteries to supply it with oxygen-rich blood. When arteries become blocked or clogged by a build up of fat and plaque, the blood (and oxygen) that is able to reach the heart can be greatly decreased. This can cause extra strain on the heart, which, in turn, can cause chest pain and other symptoms. This narrowing of the arteries is known as coronary artery disease (or CAD), and is sometimes called hardening of the arteries. It is the type of ailment that most people probably think of when they hear the term “heart disease.” It is estimated that CAD causes about 1.5 million heart attacks each year in the United States.
The most common symptom of CAD is angina. Angina might be described as discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing or a painful feeling in the chest. It’s sometimes mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the left shoulder, arms, neck, throat, jaw or back.
Other symptoms of CAD can include shortness of breath, palpitations, a racing heartbeat, weakness, dizziness or feeling light-headed, indigestion, nausea and sweating. CAD can lead to a heart attack, or myocardial infarction. Symptoms of a heart attack include those listed above as well as pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone; discomfort that radiates to the back, jaw, throat or arm; and extreme weakness and shortness of breath.
If at any time you feel you are having a heart attack, do not delay or wait for an appointment with your doctor. Contact emergency services (by dialing 911 in most areas). Immediate and quick treatment of a heart attack is crucial to lessening the amount of damage to your heart.
Thankfully, there are a number of things we all can do everyday to lessen our risk of heart disease and heart attack. Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can go a long way to helping the heart stay strong. A heart-healthy lifestyle means decreasing or eliminating your own risk factors for heart disease. Unfortunately, there are some risk factors that some people can’t change. These are: being male, advancing in age, having a family history of heart disease and being post-menopausal.
The good news is there are a number of modifiable risk factors. If you have heart disease, you should work out an individualized treatment plan with your physician. In general, however, to decrease your risk of heart disease, you should:
§ Quit smoking. Smokers have more than twice the risk for heart attack as nonsmokers. The nicotine in smoke causes decreased oxygen to the heart, increased blood pressure, heart rate and blood clotting as well as damage to the cells that line coronary arteries.
§ Eat a healthy diet to decrease cholesterol and blood pressure. This includes a generous intake of fresh vegetables and fruits. It also means limiting fats, cholesterol and salt intake. Protein from a variety of sources should be eaten in moderate amounts. Complex carbohydrates (breads, rice, pasta, whole grains) are good; simple carbohydrates (regular soda pop, sugar, candy) should be avoided.
§ Try to drink 32 to 64 ounces of water daily unless you are fluid-restricted.
Get up off the couch and get active. Twenty to 30 minutes of exercise three times per week has been shown to help keep the heart healthy. Even regular activities -- like gardening or taking a daily walk -- can benefit your heart.
Maintain an appropriate weight. Excess weight can put significant strain on your heart, and obesity is a risk factor for heart disease. Combining exercise with a healthy diet should help you to lose weight. If you are extremely overweight, consult with a physician before starting any exercise or diet program.
Decrease the stress in your life. This can be easier said than done. Decreasing stress means taking time for yourself to unwind and get away from the pressures of the day. Getting a good night’s sleep can help to decrease your stress level. Most people require six to eight hours of sleep a night to replenish themselves for the following day.
Keep medical conditions in check. If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions for controlling and treating your condition.
If you spent the last five minutes reading this article, chances are your heart’s beaten somewhere around 350 times during that interval. The heart truly is the workhorse of the body. Other body organs rest when we rest, or at least get to take a break once in awhile. We rely on our heart to do its job every minute of every day. It only seems right that we should take proper care to keep it strong and healthy. By living smart, eating right and maintaining a positive lifestyle, you can lower your risk for heart disease and help your heart stay healthy -- and beating for years to come.
Dr. Malkovich is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.