When it comes to the hardest working accolade, no organ besides the heart would win that prize. The brain absolutely does its part, but the heart just keeps beating day in and day out, without rest.
Naturally, over time the heart and cardiovascular system may accumulate a deficit or two, especially after the age of 50. Around this time, it becomes very important to start paying extra attention to the heart and circulatory system, as disease and disorders relating to them remain the number one cause of death in the developed world.
Relax, as it's not too late. You can take control of your cardiovascular health now and enjoy life to the fullest.
Before we delve into what you can do, a quick refresher about what CAN happen if you don't take good care of your ticker is a necessity.
Common Cardiovascular Diseases That May Occur
Having high cholesterol is a very serious problem, one that many people do not seem to appreciate. If you have ever had your cholesterol level checked, chances are the doctor who did so told you to eat better and exercise more. As simple as this task sounds, too many people cannot seem to get it right.
It turns out there's a lot more than diet and exercise at play in determining whether you are able to get your cholesterol under control. Genetic factors are more of an indicator than anything else, so if your parents have high cholesterol, chances are you will too.
While it's easy to be apathetic about cholesterol levels and the risks they pose for cardiovascular disease, it is always better safe than sorry. If you have not had your cholesterol checked recently, do not hesitate to set up a check-up.
Hypocholesteremia (another name for high cholesterol) can increase your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke significantly.
What's more, as you get older, high cholesterol can be a sign of an underlying hormonal disorder, which also makes it all the more important to have your levels checked regularly.
In some cases, medication may be needed, but changing your lifestyle is usually enough to significantly decrease your cardiac risk and keep your ticker happy.
Clogged Arteries (Atherosclerosis)
Your heart works so hard every day, pumping blood throughout your entire body. In order to do its job properly, the cardiovascular system needs healthy blood vessels in good working condition. If they become clogged or occluded with plaque, this can be a problem that continues to get worse over time.
This blockage, known as an atherosclerotic plaque, is caused by bad lifestyle choices, such as smoking or a poor diet. The thicker this plaque gets, the harder it is for your heart to pump blood through your body. This can cause everything from pain in your legs when you walk up stairs to chest pains and even sudden death .
If you think that plaques are caused by fatty foods , you have it all wrong. Plaque is actually made up of cholesterol , calcium, and even white blood cells which promote aggregation.
It's also important to remember that plaques are not strictly harmless. They can rupture, leading to blood clots which can cause a stroke or heart attack if they get lodged somewhere in your body where the blood supply is not sufficient.
Prevention is everything, in this case, so please remember to eat your vegetables and try to avoid smoking. If you have kids, make sure they grow up with a healthy lifestyle as well.
Heart failure tends to occur when the heart is unable to meet the pumping demands placed on it. This may happen due to a problem with the heart itself, or it could be caused by other cardiovascular problems which cause strain on the heart.
Heart failure has many causes, including coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, congenital heart defects, irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, and even cancer.
Instead of taking prescription medications as most people do, many experts recommend a plant-based diet and exercise instead. Studies have shown that this regimen can reduce cardiac norepinephrine levels by up to 50 percent.
Of course, the best way to prevent heart failure is to maintain your cardiovascular health through a proper diet and regular physical activity.
Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)
A heart attack occurs when someone's blood supply is cut off to the heart. this can be caused by acute inflammatory events in the coronary artery which are commonly associated with insulin resistance and obesity.
If you have frequent bouts of pain when walking or climbing stairs, basically any kind of physical exertion, it's important to see a doctor for immediate medical attention.
You should also pay close attention to any kind of chest pain which has no obvious cause and lasts more than a few minutes, such as when you take a deep breath or cough.
Heart attacks can occur in people who appear completely healthy with no risk factors, so the only way to be sure is to get yourself checked out every year with a full physical.
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Hypertensive people are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, cardiac arrest, or even coronary artery disease. It's pretty hard to ignore the link.
If your blood pressure is high at rest, you can develop substantial damage to your cardiovascular system within just three months.
There are many causes of hypertension, including smoking, stress, obesity, lack of exercise, and even diabetes. All these factors can greatly increase a person's risk for certain conditions which in turn cause hypertension.
Many people have been able to drastically reduce their blood pressure with natural interventions along the dietary and lifestyle spectrum, including getting sufficient daily exercise.
Try as best as possible to control yours, as there's a reason it's called the silent killer.
Interventions To Support Heart Health
Reduce Consumption of Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
Instead, try to replace saturated fats with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are often found in cold-water fish such as sardines, mackerel, and tuna. The reason for this is that omega-6 fats can inhibit the metabolism of other fat types, while omega-3s promote it.
The best way to get higher levels of unsaturated fats in your diet is by consuming a lot of grass-fed or farmed animals and fish over grain-fed animals.
Reduce intake of Excess Sodium
Reduce or (ideally) eliminate processed foods like canned soups, breakfast cereals, condiments, cured meats, and pre-made pasta sauce. All these contain very high levels of sodium which can contribute to hypertension.
Instead, try to prepare your meals fresh at home using fresh whole ingredients instead of relying on packaged food (which tends to contain high levels of sodium).
You can also use natural alternatives to salt, such as garlic or onion powder, ginger, fresh or dehydrated basil, cilantro, and parsley.
Limit Processed Carbohydrates/ Simple Sugars
These have been shown to raise triglyceride levels, lower HDL cholesterol and increase blood pressure. Plus, they increase insulin release from the pancreas which has a direct knock-on effect on cholesterol levels in the blood.
Instead, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables with a low glycemic index, such as apples, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Grains should be consumed in their whole form (i.e., brown rice instead of white rice).
Increase Consumption of Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Antioxidants can help to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is an important step in the development of atherosclerosis. These foods should be eaten regularly, including vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and other leafy greens. Citrus fruits are also very high in antioxidants.
They are also very beneficial for overall health as they can reduce oxidative damage to cells, slow down aging and fight cellular mutations.
Even if it's just a short walk after dinner, regular exercise is essential to promoting heart health.
Exercise can help to reduce levels of triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol. It also reduces stress which in turn has a positive impact on various body systems, including the cardiovascular system.
Many forms of them can be effective, including walking briskly, jogging, biking, swimming, or even hiking. Anything that increases your heart rate for thirty minutes at least three to four times a week is great!
Yoga has also been shown to help reduce blood pressure and other measures of cardiovascular health.
If you're new to exercise, start at a comfortable intensity and increase this as you start to feel capable of more and your fitness improves.
It is also important that you not exclude weight-bearing or resistance exercise, as these are essential for keeping bones strong and maintaining muscle mass, which helps to keep your metabolism high (and can contribute to weight control).
Practice Relaxation Techniques Regularly
Stress has the capability to raise blood pressure, which can counter-act all the positive effects of physical exercise.
You may find that certain relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or simple breathing exercises are helpful for reducing stress levels and improving overall cardiovascular health.
Stress and the hormone cortisol are MAJOR contributors to heart disease, and if something as simple as meditating a few minutes daily can help to decrease this burden, it is definitely time well-spent.
Get Adequate Sleep
Getting enough sleep is absolutely vital for good health. Even minor deficiencies have been linked with an increased risk of hypertension. If you want your heart to remain healthy, make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep every night, as well as napping when necessary.
During sleep, heart rate decreases, offering the muscles of your heart some much-needed downtime. Plus, levels of stimulatory hormones and catecholamines are at their lowest during sleep, preventing their negative effects on your heart health.
CoQ-10 is a nutrient that is a critical component of the mitochondria in every cell. It has been shown to lower blood lipids and improve heart function.
It is believed to help energize cardiac cells and help prevent damage to the heart, which is particularly important as we age.
As supplements containing CoQ 10 have been shown to be very effective at improving heart health, your should definitely consider supplementing if you are over 50!
A dose of 200-300mg/day is typically recommended.
Fish Oils/ Omega-3 Fats
Eating oily fish like sardines or salmon at least once a week has been shown to keep cholesterol levels healthy and reduce the risk of cardiac disease. This can be supplemented by taking a fish oil supplement daily.
If you would prefer to get your Omega-3 fats from a vegan source, flaxseed oil or even chia seeds (which you can add to smoothies and salads) is a great alternative.
Garlic is also very beneficial for lowering cholesterol levels. It works by inhibiting the formation of cholesterol in the body and also by breaking down existing cholesterol. It can also help lower blood pressure, so it's a great choice for your heart health supplement regimen.
Arginine is an amino acid that acts as a precursor to nitric oxide (NO), which helps keep blood vessels healthy by enabling the vascular smooth muscle cells to produce NO and encourage vasodilation.
This is important since it keeps blood pressure down and ensures adequate blood flow for all tissues, especially the heart and brain.
Research has shown that it can be helpful for patients with acute myocardial infarction, and also for those who have had surgery such as coronary artery bypass surgery, cardiac transplantation, or heart-valve surgery.
While arginine supplements are not recommended if you have a history of angioedema, it is generally safe for other patients.
The recommended dosage is 2500-3000mg/day for cardiac patients and 3000-6000mg/ day if you're healthy.
Niacin is related to the B family of vitamins, but it has a number of helpful benefits for the heart.
Niacin is used in combination with other medications to lower LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels and raise HDL levels. It helps improve endothelial dysfunction, which makes it very useful for preventing atherosclerosis and reducing plaque formation within blood vessels.
It can also help reduce C-reactive protein, which is a marker for inflammation.
The recommended dosage is 500mg 2-3 times/day. Niacin can be supplemented as nicotinic acid or in the more expensive niacinamide form.
One important note about Niacin supplements- if you feel itchy, or have a tingling sensation after drinking it, you are not allergic. This is a phenomenon known as flushing that results from the blood vessels closest to the skin being dilated.
This effect disappears after a week or two of continuously taking the supplement.
Heart health is something you need to take very seriously, starting right now. All of the strategies mentioned above are inexpensive and work to directly benefit your heart.
As you age, it becomes more important than ever to put in place preventative measures that ensure your heart stays healthy for as long as possible.
By following these simple guidelines, you can be confident that you will enjoy a healthier heart for years to come.