February is considered the Heart Month under the calendar of events of the Department of Health, hence the Aegle Wellness Center features letter for this month.
Heart disease, specifically, coronary heart disease, is the number-one killer in the Philippines. Handling our heart gently, so to speak, is essential for our overall wellbeing. And it need not be too difficult to keep it beating healthily throughout our life.
Let's take a look at the simple ABCs of taking care of our heart:
Avoid tobacco and tobacco products.
Tobacco avoidance is by far one of the most important factors that preserves the efficiency of your heart's function. It is considered to be an independent risk factor for the development of coronary artery disease (CAD). Simply put, even if you are not overweight, have no family history of heart disease, and have normal levels of cholesterol, if you smoke, you have at least a 30%-50% chance of developing CAD.
Tobacco contains over a quadrillion free radicals. These induce inflammatory reactions in your entire body, especially in your circulatory system. Nicotine and tar are powerful stimulants. These cause your heart to beat faster even at rest, cause spasm of the coronary arteries, and make them less pliable to ensure a pulsatile flow of blood that nourishes your heart. The carbon monoxide that you inhale with every drag also induces coronary spasm. This means that even if there are no blockages in your coronary arteries, spasms can precipitate a heart attack. If this is coupled with severe irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), this can be potentially fatal.
THE ABCs of HEART CARE
Luis C. Valencia, Jr, MD, FPCP | February 9, 2017
If you don't smoke: DON'T START! If you smoke: STOP ASAP! Smoking cessation will be the best favor you can do for your heart. It will also be a favor for the other people around you who do not smoke. If this is easier said than done, create a group of people who are committed to supporting you in your smoking cessation program. Having people who encourage you when "kicking the habit" is one of the best ways to ensure smoking cessation. Keep noticing how much easier it is for you to breathe, to cope with stress, and to keep pace with the rest of the crowd, even in your senior years.
Like any muscle of the body, the heart becomes more efficient if it is allowed to pump stronger and faster under controlled conditions. This is exercise. For your heart to fully benefit from exercise, it needs to be done regularly (4-5 times a week), and performed for around 30-60 minutes per session.
A good cardiovascular workout means that you are able to achieve your maximum heart rate (max HR) and sustain it for at least 30 minutes. This is computed through this equation:
(220 - your age in years) x 80% = max HR
So, a 50-year old person will have a max HR of: (220-50) X 80% = 136 beats/minute.
Brisk walking is the simplest form of good cardio exercise. The only investments necessary are a comfortable pair of shoes, comfortable exercise outfits, and time. Other exercises include jogging (if your knees and ankles can take it), biking, dancing, and swimming. Try to create a good mix of these different activities. This way, boredom is avoided. Again, one of the best ways to adhere to an exercise regimen is to have regular companions. Make it a social event, or perhaps even try some friendly competition.
The key is consistency. Exercising heavily once or twice a week may actually even be detrimental to the heart's condition.
Count (or choose) your calories:
Having a body mass index of 25 or less is definitely favorable to the heart. Why? It is less strenuous for it to pump blood through a lean body than an overweight one. For every excess pound of fat, your body needs to create around an additional kilometer of blood vessels to nourish it. That means more work for your heart. This is best achieved through proper nutrition. (I have avoided using the word "DIET" because of its negative connotation.)
Counting calories need not equate to starvation. It just entails being conscious about food choices. More nutritious food items are available now than 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the availability of junk food is also greater now. Changing the focus of food choices makes a big difference in eating the "calories that are worth it," meaning eating food with high nutritive value.
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If a diet change is intended, this begins at the grocery and in the market, NOT on the table. If it is not bought, it won't be consumed! Changing your buying habits will have a big impact on your health.
A simple rule of thumb for eating nutritiously is to eat fresh food items as much as possible. Packaged snacks, fast food, and canned food products are typically laced with numerous preservatives that are highly inflammatory to your body. Shift your sources of carbohydrates to root crops more than processed grains. Carbohydrates from root crops do not make your blood sugar rise too abruptly. This prevents the occurrence of "insulin surge," where too much insulin is released into your body, making you become hungry in a short period of time even if you have eaten more than sufficiently. Insulin surge is also responsible for the "food coma" experienced after having a big meal.
Eating raw vegetables and a single serving of fruit before eating protein and carbohydrates "tricks" you brain into feeling full sooner. If you can help it, skip the cake or the ice cream as much as possible. These are high in refined sugar and contain a lot of highly processed food additives, and contribute to the insulin surge earlier mentioned.
If you are intent on being healthy, do have a serious conversation with our Aegle nutritionists. Together with your physician, they can create meal plans that are not only nutritious, but will also keep your palate happy in the process.
Having a healthy heart can be this simple, and caring for it is an important step in your total well-being. I wish to add than that total well-being involves these important factors:
Nutrition: all that you consume;
Environment: all that surrounds you;
Lifestyle: all that you do;
And, Perspective: all that you think, feel, and believe.
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