Hearts: they’re everywhere in February. Red and pink cutouts in store windows remind us to grab a gift for Valentine’s Day. But February is also Heart Month, a reminder to protect our real, physical hearts from a serious threat: cardiovascular disease. If you can take 10 minutes to pick up a bouquet of flowers, you can take 10 minutes to exercise—and to try these other simple heart-helping steps.
What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is among the leading causes of death in North America for both men and women. CVD encompasses a range of diseases and injuries to the cardiovascular system—composed of the heart and the arteries and veins that transport blood throughout the body and within the brain.
What are the causes?
Heart diseases and stroke can be caused by the same problem: atherosclerosis. This is the buildup of plaque in artery walls. When plaque builds up and hardens, arteries may become so narrow that blood flow to the heart is reduced, causing angina, which is experienced as pain or discomfort in the chest. If a piece of the arterial plaque breaks away, it can cause a blood clot that may block the supply of blood to the heart, causing a heart attack, or to the brain, causing a stroke.
The risk factors for heart disease and stroke include smoking, excess alcohol use, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, being overweight or obese and diabetes.
In most cases, regular monitoring of these risk factors and understanding cholesterol (and triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood), blood pressure and blood sugar levels can often steer you in the direction of healthier lifestyle choices for your heart.
How can you modify your risk?
The Mediterranean diet is associated with overall better heart health. A recent large review of research trials concluded that following a Mediterranean diet may result in lower risk of CVD.
The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Olive oil is included as an important source of fat, while dairy products, fish, poultry and wine are consumed in low to moderate amounts.
Supplements can help eliminate nutritional deficits and support cardiovascular health. Always speak with your doctor or health care practitioner before trying a new supplement.
- Fish oils can lower triglyceride levels by about 30 percent in those with elevated triglycerides and can help reduce markers of inflammation and elevated blood pressure.
- Coenzyme Q10 helps support cardiovascular health.
- Magnesium helps relax the arteries and allow for better blood flow to the heart muscle.
Exercise can also have a strong protective effect against cardiovascular disease. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Strength activities should be added at least twice per week. Check out “Don’t Fear the Machines” in this issue of alive@work online for strength training ideas.