Anyone who ever had traditional open heart surgery knows that the experience is no walk in the park. The surgery is clearly a mainstay in the treatment of heart disease, but is associated with pain and requires several weeks of rehabilitation before patients can return to all of their normal activities.
You've probably heard it by now: avoid trans fatty acids--those in fried foods, margarine, and the "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" ingredient you see on the label of that tempting package of cookies or donuts. But what's all the fuss?
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An estimated 8 million Americans suffer from peripheral vascular disease (PVD). This condition of narrowing or blockages in the blood vessels of the legs causes symptoms of pain and cramping in the legs when walking.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like substance found in your body’s cells and bloodstream. Your body produces cholesterol naturally, and the rest comes from the food you eat. According to the American Heart Association, your body makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through your bloodstream. Cholesterol is found in the structure of all cells in the body. It helps digest fat and produce vitamin D and hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Cholesterol comes in two types High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol.” HDL removes cholesterol from the artery walls and transports it to the liver where it is removed from the body. Foods containing HDL are nuts, soy, and fish. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is often referred to as “bad cholesterol.” LDL deposits cholesterol in the artery walls, which can cause buildup (known as plaque) that can narrow or block blood vessels and increase the risk of heart and vascular disease. High cholesterol foods to avoid Foods that likely raise LDL cholesterol contain saturated fat and trans-fat. Highly saturated foods are animal products such as: high-fat cuts of beef, lamb, pork, butter, cream, ice cream, whole milk, cheese, egg yolks, and foods that are made with these products. Foods high in trans-fat are: fried foods, commercially baked goods (donuts, cookies, crackers), processed foods, and margarines. Try to find trans-fat free margarines, or use olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine when you are cooking. Low cholesterol food options The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts to lower cholesterol. AHA also says to limit red meat and sugary foods and beverages. Why is excess cholesterol bad? Too much cholesterol causes plaque buildup in the artery walls. It is more difficult for the heart to circulate blood through the arteries when there is plaque buildup. Plaque buildup can also cause blood clots, which can lead to stroke or heart attack. A final note: While many other factors such as a lack of exercise, being overweight, age, and heredity contribute to cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet is the first step anyone can take to help fight high cholesterol.
Often when we learn we have a particular disease, like diabetes, we focus so much on it that we ignore how medical conditions are often inter-connected. Take your heart for example. Diabetes is now considered the strongest risk you can have for developing heart disease. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of early death in people with diabetes. You can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by working closely with your doctor on a heart healthy plan. Stick to the plan The most important factor is not smoking. It is critical to your wellbeing to not damage your heart and blood vessels with cigarette smoke. Let your doctor know that you are ready to quit and he or she will assist you. High blood pressure is another major risk for heart disease and often goes hand in hand with diabetes. As you and your doctor plan for your diabetes care, be sure you are also addressing any tendency you may have for high blood pressure. One of the key recommendations for all adults with diabetes is treatment with cholesterol lowering medications known as statins. Taking a cholesterol medicine is important for all diabetics, even if there is not yet any sign of heart disease. Just as diet and exercise are important for your diabetes, cholesterol medicine is equally important. Weight control is more than a good idea As part of your diabetes care, your doctor will be monitoring your weight, getting you to increase your physical activity and manage your carbohydrate intake. Being overweight puts added stress on your heart and is associated with insulin resistance. Your doctor’s advice to exercise and control your weight is not just a good idea, it’s effective medicine that can keep you healthy. Stick to your diet and exercise plan and let your doctor know how it’s going—good and bad. Not everyone experiences warning signs for diabetes. Don’t wait for the signs to become obvious. Make an appointment and bring along a checklist of all your health concerns, asking your doctor where you stand on diabetes as well as heart health. A final note The good news for both diabetes and heart disease is that catching problems early goes a long way to prevent complications and to continue leading an active life.
As you get older, you may find it more difficult to begin or maintain a regular exercise routine. You are never too old to exercise. And, with caution, you can overcome the challenges of an ongoing health problem or the fear of falling or injuring yourself. Why exercise is important According to the American Heart Association, maintaining or increasing your physical activity after age 65 can improve your heart’s function and lower your risk of heart attack and heart disease. Regular exercise also controls blood pressure and strengthens the heart. Exercising daily promotes flexibility in the arteries, the vessels that carry blood throughout the body. This allows blood to flow normally and helps to keep blood pressure at a safe level. According to A.D.A.M., UI Health Care’s on-line medical library, physically inactive people have a 35 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure over those who are active. Similarly, people who live an active lifestyle have a 45 percent lower risk of developing heart disease than those who are inactive. Finding a routine that fits your needs The key to long-term success is developing an exercise routine that works best for your personal needs. Make sure to meet with your physician prior to beginning your exercise routine. Your physician can help you find a routine that works with a chronic condition or injury you may have. A stress test can also help determine your risk of heart complications during exercise. If you have a heart condition or a history of heart disease, a stress test may help determine the right exercise program for you. Know the limitations If you are over 40, consider these questions with your doctor to determine your risk of developing heart disease: Has a doctor recommended medically supervised activity because of a heart condition? Do you have chest pain during or after exercise? Have you had chest pain within the last month? Do you feel dizzy to the point where you faint or fall over? Do you have bone or join pain that increases during or after exercise? Are you taking medication for a heart problem or high blood pressure? Has your doctor instructed you not to exercise without medical supervision due to a physical issue? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your doctor may recommend having a medical examination prior to beginning an exercise routine. The American Heart Association recommends older adults aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. If you’re just beginning, it’s important to pace yourself. Start out with 10 to 15 minutes of aerobic activity and gradually increase the time or difficulty of your routine. A few aerobic activities include: Walking briskly Jogging Swimming or water aerobics Dancing Biking Climbing stairs A final note If you have a condition such as uncontrolled diabetes, seizures, high blood pressure, heart failure, or have had a heart attack within the last six months, be sure your doctor carefully monitors your exercise routine.
If you experience a heart related symptom, such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, or fatigue, your physician may recommend you see a cardiologist. What is a cardiologist? A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in finding, treating, and preventing issues in the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, arteries, and veins. Your specialty care may begin with a general cardiologist or proceed immediately to a subspecialist who might focus on congenital heart defects, heart rhythm problems, heart blockages, or heart failure. Planning your visit Come up with a list of questions or concerns to share with the cardiologist about your heart’s condition. Write these questions down to be sure all of your concerns get addressed. How does my family history affect my heart health Is my blood pressure reading normal? What is my cholesterol level and how does this affect my heart? Am I experiencing a heart symptom due to my age, gender, or weight? Are my symptoms indicating a heart attack? Are my eating habits causing my heart symptoms? Are my exercise habits causing my heart symptoms? Is my level of stress/anxiety increasing my risk of heart complications? What are my treatment options for the heart symptoms I am having? What should I do if my symptoms persist? A final note Having a heart specialist who is familiar with your heart’s health history will help insure your long-term health.
“Listen to your kids. Loss of consciousness or chest pain should never be ignored. If your child develops extreme chest pain, dizziness/light headedness, palpitations (rapid heart rate), or unusual shortness of breath during exercise or exertion, make sure to schedule an appointment with your family physician.”
Your target heart rate is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. It is the level at which your heart is beating with moderate to high intensity. To determine your maximum heart rate, take 220 and subtract your age.
Knowing which foods to consume and which to avoid is essential to keeping the heart functioning properly. Eating healthy foods helps control high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol levels, which are three major risk factors in the development of heart disease. University of Iowa cardiologist, Ramzi El Accaoui, M.D., recommends these elements for maintaining a heart healthy diet: Consume 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day Consume whole grains instead of refined grains Consume white meat (poultry and seafood) Consume beans instead of red meat as a source of protein Understand the nutritional labels on food Limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day Reduce the consumption of trans fats (margarines and fast food) Dr. El Accaoui also discourages his patients from consuming sweetened beverages and sodas, because they are very high in sugar. Several studies have shown that the consumption of sugary drinks is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attacks, he says. Consider these three heart-healthy diets Three diets Dr. El Accaoui lists as having heart healthy benefits are the D.A.S.H. diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the Ornish spectrum diet. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, or D.A.S.H. diet, is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, nuts, fish, and poultry. This diet is low in sugar-sweetened products and red meat. It is particularly beneficial for patients with high blood pressure, especially when combined with low salt intake. The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. This diet has a larger quantity of fish and poultry than of red meat. The Ornish spectrum is a diet in which foods are categorized from the most heart healthy (group 1) to the least heart healthy (group 5). Although eating healthy can reduce the risk of heart disease, Dr. El Accaoui says, “smoking is probably the most important modifiable risk for heart disease.” A final note from Dr. El Accaoui “Even if you have a heart condition that requires treatment beyond changing your lifestyle, you can’t go wrong by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and stopping smoking.”
In a recent study reported in the American Heart Association journal, researchers say an hour or more of moderate exercise or a half an hour of vigorous exercise per day may lower the risk of heart failure by 46 percent.
Added sugar makes up at least 10 percent of the calories the average American ingests in a day. According to Harvard Health Publications, one in 10 people get one-fourth of their daily calories from added sugar.