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Focus on Fitness 2012: Heart Health

There is no doubt that healthy eating and being active can help protect the health of your heart.

September 7, 2012
By Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

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There is no doubt that healthy eating and being active can help protect the health of your heart. Numbers and vitamin support can also play a role.

Given that a 2007 Harvard study showed that firefighters face a much higher risk of death from heart attack when battling a blaze – up to 100 times the normal rate – and are more likely to be struck even when they’re doing less-strenuous tasks, heart health is a crucial part of all firefighter health and fitness plans.

Here’s how you can manage your heart health.

Know your numbers
Certain numbers can help define whether you are treating your heart with all the respect it deserves. Your waistline measurement, blood pressure readings and cholesterol levels can help you establish whether you need to make small lifestyle changes and what those changes should be. These readings help you determine whether you are at risk, which denotes a higher probability of health problems such as heart disease, stroke and/or diabetes. 

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Waistline
Rarely do doctors measure waistlines as part of a routine physical, yet a bulging middle indicates a heart health risk.
To accurately measure your waistline:

Find your natural waist. This is the point between your lowest ribs and your hip bones and is easy to identify by placing your hands on your hips.

Wrap a soft tape measure around your bare waist making sure that it is positioned around your natural waist (the tape measure should touch the top of your hip bones).

When doing this, do not hold your breath or pull the tape measure in tightly, allow for about 13 millimetres (one-half inch) of slack.

You are considered at risk for heart-health problems if your waist measures more than 102 centimetres (40 inches) for men or 88 centimetres (35 inches) for women. People of Chinese or South Asian descent are at risk if the waist measurement is more than 90 centimetres (35 inches) for men or 80 centimetres (32 inches) for women.

Knowing this number can tell you immediately that it’s time to begin the process of lowering your body’s fat through small lifestyle changes such as exercise and eating healthier, and therefore lowering your health risk. 

Blood pressure   
Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure or force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels (or arteries). The top number represents the pressure when your heart contracts and pushes blood out (systolic) and the bottom number is the lowest pressure when the heart relaxes between beats (diastolic).

Elevated blood pressure – also known as high blood pressure or hypertension – affects one in five Canadians. It is the No. 1 risk  factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease.

High blood pressure often doesn’t have any warning signs or symptoms, but the good news is that you can control it if you know you need to. 

Normal blood pressure is between 120/80 and 129/84 mm Hg. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked by your doctor.

Cholesterol
Cholesterol is waxy, fat-like substance found naturally in your body. It helps you to digest fat. Your liver produces most of the cholesterol and the rest comes from your diet.

LDL, which is known as the bad cholesterol, can build up gradually on the inside of artery walls when levels are high. This plaque narrows the blood vessels and can lead to the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease. 

HDL, or the good cholesterol, actually helps to carry the LDL cholesterol away from your blood vessel walls to the liver, where it is removed from the body. High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

If you don’t know if your cholesterol levels/ratio are within the healthy guidelines, speak with your doctor if:   

  • You are male and are over 40.
  • You are female and are over 50 or are post-menopausal.
  • You have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or are at risk of stroke.
  • Your waist measurements are larger than those noted above. 

Vitamin Support
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning you cannot make them in your diet and their role in cardiovascular disease is very well established. The two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, EPA and DHA, have been studied extensively and have been found to reduce the risk factors for heart disease, such as cholesterol, high blood pressure and high levels of triglycerides. Research has even found fish oil supplementation to be effective in heart-attack suffers and may even lower their risk of future stroke and heart attacks. Fish-oil supplementation also helps to slow the development of clots in the arteries. Studies have found that eating even two servings of fish a week can reduce your risk of stroke by 50 per cent. Fish oil has also been linked to benefits for inflammation, cancer, eye health, brain health, attention deficit, depression and arthritis. Fish oil is definitely a key supplement when it comes to heart health, but it is also a key supplement to overall health.

Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant found in almost every cell in the body. It is often recognized for its antioxidant abilities and for its use as an energy source. However, this enzyme plays a very important role when it comes to heart health. Research has found that not only may CoQ10 play a role in managing high blood pressure and cholesterol levels but also, studies are finding that it may help produce cardio-protective effects. There may be benefits for individuals suffering from heart failure, in terms of managing fluid retention, inflammation, energy levels and even breathing. There is also evidence that CoQ10 supplementation may benefit heart-attack suffers by reducing the risk of subsequent attacks and improving recovery after a heart attack.

Two additional nutrients that may be effective are calcium and magnesium. These minerals work on a cellular level to improve the function of the heart by encouraging relaxation of the blood vessels. Magnesium regulates calcium levels and works with calcium to maintain heart function. The body maintains a precise ratio of calcium and magnesium with systems in place to auto-adjust levels of these minerals when a temporary imbalance occurs. If the imbalance is not corrected, medical intervention is required.

If you are on a vitamin support program and would like to see how your brand rates in the independent Nutrisearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements, please visit www.firehallfit.com for the Compare Your Vitamin feature.

The importance of keeping your heart healthy really can’t be over-emphasized. In addition to eating healthy and being active, know your numbers and have a vitamin/supplement program in place to make sure you are doing everything you can to take care of your heart.

Visit www.firehallfit.com for more information on nutrition, exercise, sleep, attitude and vitamin support as well as healthy recipes and lifestyle tips.


HAL  
   

For the past 24 years, under the umbrella of BodyBreak, Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod have been communicating to Canadians the important message that making small lifestyle changes can benefit individuals and their families for a lifetime. Hal and Joanne’s mission is to heighten the awareness of the benefits of a healthier, more active lifestyle.  Contact Hal and Joanne at hal@bodybreak.com


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