The heart is a muscle that pumps blood and its essential cargo of oxygen and nutrients around the body. Like all muscles, it needs oxygen to work properly. Its supply comes in via the two powerful coronary arteries that network deep into the heart muscle. When something goes wrong with this supply, the condition is life threatening.
The term heart disease covers many conditions, including abnormal heart structure, valve defects and defects with the ” pacemaker”, which triggers a regular heartbeat. However, the biggest killer of the western world is atherosclerosis – the build up of fatty sludge in the coronary arteries. This sludge, called atheroma, consists of cholesterol, proteins and tissue debris. It gradually narrows the arteries and restricts the vital supply of oxygen – rich blood to the heart. It also reduces the flexibility of the arteries, which can increase blood pressure and crack the normally smooth surface of the artery wall. Cracks create dangerous blood clots, which can block the artery completely.
A variety of risk factors bring about atherosclerosis. The mixture of narrowed vessels, high blood pressure and blood clots is known as coronary artery disease. It sets the scene for pain and heart attack.
Check out, What YOU can do to lower the risk for heart disease.
LOWERING YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE
Regular exercise increases beneficial high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which protects against atherosclerosis. It also increases heart efficiency, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, balances blood clotting factors and reduce stress.
Take 15 minutes of moderate exercise (gardening, housework, brisk walking, dancing or swimming ) twice day five days a week. Moderate exercise should make you sweat slightly and breathe more heavily than usual.
Low-fat diets promote a good balance of blood fats and help maintain a healthy weight.
Guard against developing diabetes, high blood pressure and high – risk, centrally-located fat. Weight around the abdomen strains the heart the most.
This is the most important modifiable risk factor. Smokers under 50 years of age are twice as likely to die of a heart attack as nonsmokers. Smoking increases adrenaline and heart rate, raises blood pressure, reduces body’s oxygen- carrying capacity and encourages thrombosis
( blood clotting ).
Use nicotine patches, gum, acupuncture, meditation and psychological approaches or willpower to quit. Ask your doctor for help and seek advice from friends or relatives who are former smokers. The more you smoke and the more years you smoke, the greater the likelihood of dying from a heart attack.
Up to 20 percent of adults have high blood pressure. It strains the heart and encourages hardening of the arteries, which raises pressure further. It runs in families but is also a product of lifestyle habits.
Reduce your weight, cut back on fatty foods and salt, stop smoking, drink alcohol moderately and lower your stress levels. If lifestyle changes are not successful, long-term drug treatment may be necessary.
Research suggests moderate drinkers have less risk of heart disease than teetotalers or excessive drinkers.
Moderate drinking is defined as four units of alcohol a day for men and three for women. A unit equals half a pint of beer, a glass of wine or one measure of spirits.
A little stress keeps you alert and motivated but prolonged high levels raise adrenalin levels, heart rate and blood pressure. Stress does not cause heart disease but can be a trigger if arteries are already narrowed.
Learn to lower stress levels using techniques such as relaxation and meditation. Prevent too much stress by planning work, setting realistic goals and sharing burdens such as childcare and housework.
Diabetes doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke, possibly because it is linked with weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and poor circulation.
Adhering to a pattern of regular healthy eating and a positive lifestyle strategy can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and other conditions if you have diabetes.
A combination of exertion and excitement can bring on angina, but sex also releases stress and is good exercise.
If you can walk up and down 13 steps without chest pain, sex is unlikely to be harmful, but first take any drug prescribed.
Family healthy-heart day getting together with your kids, family members or friends. Plan a heart-healthy menu for that day including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, choosing at least one physical activity that lasts 30 minutes or three activities that last ten minutes each, and talking about things you’re doing as a family to help keep hearts healthy.
Last of all, take out time to attend cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training. To find a class near you, click here.