This new easy acrostic (initials that spell a word) from HeartNewsLinks helps. There are only 5 things to remember - and their initials spell "HEART" - great for your daily routine.
All the great research and advice has been compressed into 5 things to help your heart health - regardless of whether you have a congential heart condition (genetic), acquired heart condition (lifestyle) or no heart condition.
You can take the pledge and invite your friends at http://www.causes.com/HeartAwareness
Here is the 5 step pledge - renew it every day:
Heart rate and pressure - know your numbers
Eat "heartwise" - nuts, fish, plants
Approach - optimism, activity, sleep
Reduce "bad stuff" - fat, salt, soda, sugar, stress, smoke, alcohol, junk & refined food
Tell others - get peer pressure & support
Heart rate & pressure
When either a high heart rate or blood pressure go untreated for too long, the impact on your heart can be serious. One issue is the strain it places on your arteries and blood vessels; continued strain may result in aneurisms and holes - which can be catastrophic.
- Rate - It is easy to take your heart rate by feeling your pulse and counting the beats over 15 seconds - then multiply by 4. Know what is right for you and keep it in check.
- Pressure - Know your blood pressure numbers. Normal numbers are 120/80 or lower. Know what is right for you and ask your doctor to take it each visit. Heart monitors may also help you keep an eye on your pressure.
There are many "heartwise" options in the supermarket these days - making your choices much easier. Look for the official labels.
A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts and fish may improve the elasticity of the inner surface of all blood vessels and will help prevent vascular diseases and narrowing of the blood vessel from fatty material such as cholesterol.
- Nuts - Enjoy one to two handfuls of nuts a day to help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, manage your weight and have a 30 – 50 percent lower risk of heart attack, sudden cardiac death, or cardiovascular disease. Nuts help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, relax constricted blood vessels and ease blood flow. But going overboard will add body weight and harm your heart – so try replacing a bad snack with a handful of nuts once a day.
- Fish - Many studies have found fish oil has been major in preventing heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death. A recent study found that frequent consumption of white fish improves blood pressure, lowers cholesterol and reduces weight.
- Plants - Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals, and plant chemicals which can help to protect the body against some diseases including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, some cancers and high blood pressure or hypertension. They also contain folic acid which helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Fruits and vegetables are good for the heart because they are low in fat, salt and sugar and provide a good source of dietary fibre. They also help lower your cholesterol, reduce obesity and maintain a healthy weight.
Remember "2+5" : two fruit and five vegetable serves per day.
- Optimism – Researchers have clearly shown there is a link between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular disease: optimistic people can cut their risk of a first heart attack by 50 percent compared to "glass-half-empty" types. Every day, count your blessings, practice kind acts to others, socialize, and develop relationships you feel good about—all for the good of your heart.
- Activity - Being active is essential for keeping the cardiovascular system healthy and also for keeping obesity at bay - both big factors in heart health. It helps control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and improve your mental health – helping you to look and feel great. In addition, being active keeps you vibrant and optimistic - also factors in heart health. Studies suggest that being physically active in middle age can increase your life expectancy by two years, the same benefit as giving up smoking.
You can get health benefits from all sorts of physical activity - any increase in activity will help. Be sure to include activities that will help strengthen muscles at least twice a week. This could be exercising with weights, working with resistance bands, heavy gardening or carrying shopping. 30 minutes a day is ideal (60 minutes for children), but if you “don’t have time” then 5-10 minutes several times a day will help. Take the stairs, park your car further away from the door, and definitely count in those house chores such as mowing the lawn, vacuuming, or a short brisk walk around the block at lunch or for a break. Those with moderate activity levels, equivalent to one hour of walking a day, may dilate their coronary arteries almost 50 percent more than those with lower activity levels. Those who include high-level activities, like singles tennis or swimming, at least once a week dilate their heart arteries twice as much.
- Sleep - Studies show you're more prone to inflammation in your body if you're not getting enough sleep. And who doesn't want a good night's sleep? People (more commonly men) who experience sleep apnea, a condition marked by repeated pauses in breathing, are more at risk for heart disease. Research shows that these short periods of breathlessness can cause blood pressure to skyrocket and over time, this is hazardous to our hearts. Good sleep is also vital for a feeling of well-being and vibrancy - affecting our optimism and heart health.
Reduce "bad stuff"
- Fats - Know the difference between good and bad fats and cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), a transporter of cholesterol in the blood, is the key as it predicts heart disease more than does total cholesterol. Too much LDL can cause dangerous plaque build-up in arteries - it should be less than 130 mg/dL. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) - good cholesterol - removes bad cholesterol (LDL) from arteries and should be greater than 40 mg/dL for men and greater than 45 mg/dL for women. Total cholesterol, a measure of all of your lipid levels, should be less than 200 mg/dL, and triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood that is stored as unused calories) should be less than 150 mg/dL.
You also need to keep an eye on your fat (avoid obesity). One measure is BMI (body mass index) which is calculated by dividing your weight in kg by the square of your height in metres (or, your weight in lbs multiplied by 703, and divided by the square of your height in inches). A BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight, between 18.5 & 25 is normal, over 25 is overweight and over 30 is obese. Achieving a normal body weight affects virtually everything else - lowering blood pressure, increasing HDL, combating inflammation, and lowering a risk for diabetes.
- Salt / Sodium - Salt's effects on the heart are indirect. Your body needs sodium (a major ingredient of salt) to regulate blood volume and blood pressure. Excessive amounts can lead to an increase in the force that your circulating blood exerts on the walls of your arteries - known as high blood pressure, or hypertension. That, in turn, can lead to a number of dangerous cardiovascular problems, including damage to your blood vessels and your heart.
If you are in a high risk group (ages 51 and over, African-Americans, diabetics and those with chronic kidney disease or high blood pressure), it is recommended that your intake be lower than the 1.5 grams a day recommended for adults by the Heart Association. On average, western adults consume 3.5 to 5 grams of sodium per day. However, a recent study also shows that a "low-salt diet" of less than 2.3 grams a day leads to an increase in cholesterol, triglycerides and hormones that regulate the body's salt levels, which would cause the body to preserve salt, rather than excreting it in the urine. The main message is to carefully consider how your daily salt intake impacts on your body and heart - don't take too much, and don't take too little.
- Soda - Whether you're choosing the full-sugar or diet variety soda, the data shows that you may be putting yourself at a heightened risk for everything from heart attack to osteoporosis. Certainly, full-sugar soda is high in calories and can contribute to weight gain. It's also well-documented that liquid sugar consumption leads to a high level of fasting glucose: a precursor to diabetes. Drinking just one sugar-sweetened beverage a day was associated with a 20 percent bump in a man's risk of having a heart attack over a 22-year period. What's more, that risk increased along with the amount of sugary drinks consumed - even after researchers controlled for other factors like family history, tobacco use and BMI. Previous analysis of long-term research, such as data from the Nurses' Health Study, show that sugary soda consumption has been individually linked to overall heart disease rates for women as well.
But before you consider switching to diet soda, research has shown that those who drank diet soda regularly were 44 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. So the main message here is to seriously reduce your intake of all forms of soda.
- Sugar - Added sugars are detrimental for the heart however, natural sugar sources do not have any effect on the heart if taken in moderation. Naturally occurring sugars are those that are found in natural foods such as such as honey or unprocessed cane sugar, milk (lactose), fruit (fructose) and some vegetables.
Added sugar provides no nutritional value and serves only as a source of empty calories. They are not contained in their natural state and include dietary sugars, refined sugars, carbohydrates such as sucrose, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, sweeteners, processed food and other external sugar that is used while cooking or baking. Food makers add it — by the bagful — to everything from breads and snack foods to beverages. The consumption of processed food that has refined added sugar increases bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body, and lowers good cholesterol (HDL), which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and also obesity. Obesity can lead to other problems such as an increased risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
The average westerner consumes more than 3 ounces (85 grams), or more than 20 teaspoons, of sugar per day. According to many dietary guidelines, added sugars should be limited to 8 teaspoons per day (35 grams), and less than 2 teaspoons (8 grams) per day for people with high blood pressure. One can of soda will easily surpass even the higher suggested limit without contributing any nutritional value to your diet. An alcoholic drink will do similar. Just think what a rum (distilled from sugar) and cola will do!
One recommendation says the caloric intake of sugar for men should not exceed 150 calories (0.6 kilojoules) while for women it should not exceed 100 calories (0.4 kilojoules), which is roughly 5 percent of the recommended calorie levels. Count up the sugar in the ingredients labels of all the food you consume in a day - you'll be surprised.
Stress - Work stress, defined as effort-reward imbalance, has repeatedly been shown to predict cardiovascular disease. In fact, one study has found that if you have a very stressful job and are not given the freedom to make decisions, your chances of experiencing a heart attack are 23% higher. The results from another recent study suggest that the detrimental effects of work stress are partly mediated by increased heart rate reactivity to a stressful workday, an increase in systolic blood pressure level, and lower vagal tone (the heart rate is relatively steady with low variability for the respiratory cycle). These 3 characteristics of high-work stress are all associated with increased cardiac disease risk. Essentially, the body is supposed to counter stress. However, part of that reaction includes an increased blood pressure, which, if left unchecked, can result in hypertension and other heart disease.
To reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce prolonged exposure to stress.
- Smoke - The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm blood cells, the function of the heart and the structure and function of blood vessels. This damage increases plaque build-up in the arteries. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows arteries leading to coronary heart disease (CHD). This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs and other parts of the body. Over time, CHD can lead to chest pain, arrhythmias, heart attack, heart failure, or even death. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. When combined with other risk factors—such as unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and overweight or obesity—smoking further raises the risk of heart disease.
Smokers have a 16 times greater risk of developing peripheral vascular disease (PVD - blocked blood vessels in the legs or feet) than people who have never smoked. Continuing to smoke after warning signs can lead to gangrene of a leg which may lead to amputation. One cigarette can impair circulation for up to 45 minutes by constricting the small blood vessels.
Smokers tend to have increased blood cholesterol levels, fibrinogen levels and platelet counts which make the blood more sticky. Sticky blood helps carbon monoxide attach itself much more easily than oxygen and this reduces the amount of oxygen available to the tissues. Combined with narrowing arteries, blood flows less easily is more likely to form a thrombosis (clot). This sudden blockage of an artery may lead to a fatal heart attack, a stroke or gangrene of the leg.
Smokers are more likely to develop a cerebral thrombosis (stroke) than non-smokers, especially among women who also take the contraceptive pill.
Smokers are more than 5 times as likely as non-smokers to develop abdominal aortic aneurysms.
Female smokers are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than a non-smoking woman, and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke each day.
Inhaling tobacco smoke causes several immediate responses within the heart and its blood vessels. Within one minute of starting to smoke, the heart rate begins to rise: it may increase by as much as 30 percent during the first 10 minutes of smoking. Smoking also raises blood pressure: blood vessels constrict which forces the heart to work harder to deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke increases cholesterol, levels of white blood cells and other risk factors for heart disease. Smoke's gas can also impair the blood's ability to transport oxygen throughout the body, which may raise the risk of heart attack.
Second-hand smoke also can harm the heart and blood vessels. Second-hand smoke is the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. Second-hand smoke also refers to smoke that's breathed out by a person who is smoking. Second-hand smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals that people inhale when they smoke and can damage the hearts and blood vessels of people who don't smoke in the same way that active smoking harms people who do smoke. Second-hand smoke greatly increases adults' risk of heart attack and death. It also raises children and teens' risk of future CHD because it:
* Lowers HDL cholesterol (sometimes called "good" cholesterol)
* Raises blood pressure
* Damages heart tissues
The risks of second-hand smoke are especially high for premature babies who have respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and children who have conditions such as asthma.
A recent 4 month trial with adults who had smoked 15 or more cigarettes a day for at least 3 years found that after 9 weeks, participants who had cut their smoking in half, on average had 17 percent lower levels of carbon monoxide while total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels also fell. Meanwhile, HDL ("good") cholesterol rose, and the blood's capacity to transport oxygen also improved. The main message here is to give up smoking - often this takes many attempts and success can be improved with help from a doctor.
- Alcohol - There is firm data that suggests that alcohol is both good and bad for your heart. The effect of alcohol is complex, and for some people, mild use can be harmful and heavy use is certainly harmful. Long–term and heavy alcohol misuse is directly linked to stroke, high blood pressure and cardiomyopathy.
Reducing alcohol consumption will reduce blood pressure. Heavy drinking is linked to both ischemic (blocked artery – 88 percent of strokes) and haemorrhagic (burst blood vessel – usually from high blood pressure) stroke. Cardiomyopathy is a general term for a group of diseases that abnormally enlarge, thicken or stiffen heart muscle and reduce pumping effectiveness. Drinking alcohol in large quantities has a toxic effect on the heart’s muscle. Cardiomyopathy is mostly seen in men ages 45-55 but can occur in anyone who drinks alcohol over long periods of time.
New research shows that daily moderate drinking – the equivalent of two drinks per day, seven days a week can decrease atherosclerosis, while binge drinking – the equivalent of seven drinks a day, two days a week – increases development of the disease - a serious condition that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The message here is to reduce alcohol consumption.
- Junk food / fast food - It would take the body an average of seven hours of walking to burn off a super-sized coke, a Big Mac and fries.
Fast foods and junk foods are high in fat, sodium and sugar, which can lead to obesity and a range of attendant health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. The high levels of fat and sodium in junk food and fast food can contribute to heart disease by raising blood cholesterol levels and contributing to arterial plaque build-up.
Many items on fast food menus are cooked in deep fryers filled with saturated and trans fats. These types of fat are linked to high levels of blood cholesterol, which can cause heart disease. The Heart Association recommends keeping your daily trans fat intake below 1 percent of the total amount of calories you consume, which is 2 g on a 2,000-calorie diet. One donut can add 3.2 g of trans fats and that one large serving of french fries adds 6.8 g of trans fats to your diet. You should also have no more than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fats.
Fast food items are loaded with salt and many with sugar as well. Soda and fries automatically comes with "combo meal deals" and adds salt and sugar to your diet. "Upsizing" means extra - and often unnecesaary - fries (salt) and soda (sugar). If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, these are of special concern to you, although these factors are also concerns to the larger population. If you can't avoid the fast food, try the healthy options and try avoiding the fries and replacing the soda with water.
The secondary effects of fast food include heart disease, diabetes, obesity and disorders such as dyslexia and attention deficit. An after effect from this kind of food is also depression. It has been proved that fast food and junk food changes your mood considerably in a negative way - people who consume regularly processed food that contains a large amount of fats and sugars have a 61 percent higher chance to suffer from depression unlike the other persons who follow a balanced diet.
The most known effects of processed food in human body are the narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart disease and myocardial infarction (heart attack), but also affects your liver, because it contains high level of cholesterol and fats.
Fast food is not the kind of food that you should eat every day, try to replace it with fruits, vegetables and for big meals a well cooked food. Fast food is not a healthy food and it is preferably to avoid it every time if possible.
- Refined foods – White food generally refers to foods that are white in colour and that have been processed and refined, like refined flour, polished rice, white breads, refined and processed cereals, sugar and salt. The irony of manufacturing is that all the natural goodness is first removed and then, sometimes replaced back by artificial enrichment.
Intact carbohydrates – whole grains and starchy vegetables – are more healthy than refined carbohydrates like white rice and white flour products, since they remain rich in micronutrients and fiber. In general, most refined carbohydrate foods, devoid of fiber to slow down absorption of sugars, are higher in glycemic index (GI) than unrefined foods. For example: high GI foods include sugar, white bread, and sweetened breakfast cereals; low GI carbohydrate foods include many whole grains, fresh fruits, beans, and vegetables. White potatoes, although they are a whole plant food, are also high in GI, and potato consumption of even one serving per day is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Carbohydrates’ influence on heart disease was recently investigated based on GI. In women, the groups with the greatest intake of high GI foods were at 68 percent greater risk of heart disease than those with the lowest intake. Analyzing by glycemic load revealed an even more pronounced effect - women with the highest intake of high GL foods were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease compared to women with the lowest intake - a 124 percent increase in risk. Curiously, in this study, a similar pattern was not seen in men. The researchers noted that triglyceride and HDL levels were more sensitive to GI and GL in women than in men, but they are not sure why. However, a recent and similar study performed in men did find an increased risk of heart attack in men with the highest GI and GL food intake. In any case, most high GL foods are calorie-rich and nutrient-poor, and do not have a place in a health-promoting diet.
Eating according to nutrient density automatically keeps the glycemic load of your diet low - the low GL carbohydrate sources are also the most nutrient rich – vegetables, beans, and fresh fruits, followed by whole grains and starchy vegetables.
Westerners eat less than 1 serving of whole grains per day on average. It is recommended that half the grains eaten per day should be wholegrain. Consuming more than half of your grains as refined grains instead of whole grains may increase your risk for abdominal fat, heart disease, diabetes and overall mortality.
Consuming mainly refined grains may increase your visceral adipose tissue, a type of fat found around your organs that may eventually lead to diabetes and heart disease. People who consume at least three servings of whole grains per day have approximately 10 percent less VAT than people who consumed only refined grains. Consuming refined grains instead of whole grains may also result in atherosclerosis, or thickening of the arteries, which is a risk factor for heart disease. The bran component of whole grains, which is no longer present in refined grains, may be most protective against heart disease - people who consume the most added bran have the lowest risk for heart disease.
The main message here is to eat whole grains foods and unrefined / unprocessed foods where possible. Try a diet with low GI and low GL.
As you've probably heard, "sharing halves troubles and doubles joy". When you tell others, it becomes less difficult and more rewarding as you see the results of encouragement and can celebrate milestones. Also, when you tell others what you are doing, you become accountable and this is often a big driving force for "staying power" and not quitting.
Take a lesson from all the people who try to break a habit, give up smoking or get fit, enrol your friends for support and you'll have a better chance of success - and heart health.
So use your favourite social media sites to tell your friends and others about the "5 things for a healthy heart" and see how many you can get to take the pledge with you. You will be doing yourself and others a favour!