Heart Healthy Tips To Keep Your Ticker in Top Shape

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February is National Heart month, a special time for all you HeartGeeks out there.  The heart get’s it’s own month for a very important reason, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

On a positive note, you can make healthy changes to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have heart disease. To lower your risk:

  • Get active and eat healthy.
  • Watch your weight.
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.

For more information, read this guest post by Miranda Hammer who blogs at http://www.northwestpharmacy.com/healthperch/healthy-heart/

Diet, exercise, lifestyle, and genetics all have an impact on cardiovascular health. To optimize overall wellness and protect yourself against stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure, consider integrating a few of these heart-healthy tips into your daily regimen.

Cut the Salt

Excess salt in the diet can lead to high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, an elevation in blood pressure can cause damage to the arterial walls, increase the accumulation of plaque, and block blood flow. Salt intake isn’t limited to a sprinkle here and there at the table. Processed foods, restaurant meals, and fast food feature high amounts of sodium. In order to decrease salt intake, read food labels and reduce consumption of packaged and pre-made food. The USDA’s recommendation for total daily salt consumption is 2.4 grams, which is about one teaspoon of table salt. Try cooking your own meals and swap salt for other seasonings such as garlic powder, oregano, or paprika. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and purchase items with no salt added.

Be Active

The National Institute of Aging recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity on most or all days of the week. This regimen is ideal for protective cardiovascular benefits. Intimidated by CrossFit or a spin class? Consider a brisk walk, gardening, or even bowling to keep you moving. Don’t have a 30-minute block of time to spare? Break up the physical activity into 10-minute intervals. Make sure to consult your physician before initiating a new workout program.

Lose Weight

Packing on too much weight can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. Extra fat around the midsection poses the highest risk since it is in close proximity to internal organs. Start integrating a healthy lifestyle rich in whole foods and physical activity to reduce weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death. Smoking causes plaque to build in the arterial walls, which could lead to stroke or coronary heart disease. It is never too late to stop and reap the benefits of a smoke-free life. Try cutting back one cigarette a week until you are smoke-free. Introduce new activities and experiences that were previously a challenge as a smoker, such as sitting through a play or a movie, picnicking in the park, or spending quality time with children and pets.

Manage Your Stress

According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress can have long-term physical manifestations. Stress-related anger can lead to heart arrhythmias, increased blood pressure, and damaged arteries. Reduce stress by taking control of your mind and body. Prioritize sleep and exercise. Organize your schedule, take time to relax, limit negative relationships and situations, and integrate deep breathing and relaxation exercises into your daily life.

Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

Adopting a whole food, plant-based diet has been linked to lowered blood pressure and cholesterol as well as weight loss and weight management. A plant-based lifestyle is primarily rooted in foods from the earth. Dark leafy greens, herbs, root vegetables, fruits, legumes, avocados, nuts, seeds, and a variety of whole grains all encompass a plant-based diet.

Maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides fiber, which aids in digestion and lowers cholesterol while supplying essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Aim for a colorful variety of organic and local produce when possible. If that is not an option, opt for frozen produce that is salt-, sugar-, and preservative-free.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the diet and are key components for boosting cardiovascular health. They increase HDL (the good) cholesterol in the body and reduce triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, ground flax seed, and dark leafy greens. When selecting fatty fish, choose sustainable and wild options over farmed and endangered.

Other heart-healthy fats include monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, olives, avocados, and nuts. These fats assist in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.

A comprehensive heart-healthy diet is limited in processed, fast, and frozen foods. Consume alcohol in moderation, and limit sugary foods and beverages. By making small, manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can easily improve your cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

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Why Does the Ocean Make Me Feel Better?

ocean

I am on vacation in the Outer Banks (NC) with a dozen or so members of the Maher clan.  Sitting here watching the sun rise and listening to the break of the ocean waves is not a bad way to start the day.  I like being near the ocean for a number of reasons: I like the sun, I like the water, and I like the salt air.  I exercise more, I relax more, and I just feel better.  Is it all in my head, or does being or living by the ocean actually have health benefits?  Let’s find out.

Bathing Hospitals

According to a study last year by epidemiologist Lora Fleming of the University of Exeter (England), the benefits are real.  An article highlighting her research points out that doctors have been prescribing visits to the shore or “bathing hospitals” since the 18th century.

It seems they were on to something.  The study goes on to provide examples of people relaxing, feeling better, and being more active.  The study used an interesting combination of census data, surveys and social experiments to arrive at their conclusions.  Bottom-line, being by the ocean makes people feel better.

The Elements

Sun

The sun get’s a bad rap these days.  The amount of sunscreen slathered on people makes a day at the shore look like a zombie beach party.  I am not saying burn your kids and yourself to a crisp.  I am sayIng exposure to the sun does not translate to immediate skin cancer.  In fact, there are a number of well documented benefits of sun exposure:

  • Helps promote healthy bones and teeth
  • Helps prevent some diseases, including heart disease
  • Helps reduce cramping due to prolonged use of statins

Drinking on the beach all day and passing out in the sun for several hours is not recommended.  A little exposure is all that is needed to feel the benefits of the sun.

Water

Salt water also seems to have medicinal properties.  I found an article on Boomer Living + that highlights the benefits of the minerals contained in the ocean’s water.  Benefits include help with:

  • Arthritis
  • Psoriasis
  • Skin diseases (rosaeca, eczems, etc.)
  • Depression

It seems that the iodine found in ocean water boosts thyroid function and even improves the immune system.  An important benefit for those of us with cardiovascular disease is improved blood circulations. So go ahead, enjoy a little salt.

Air

The article also cites the benefits of the ocean air.  The theory goes, as waves break on shores, ions are released into the atmosphere.  Rumor has it, these are negatively charged ions.  This is important to those of us addicted to computer screens since they produce positive ions (also known as free radicals).  The claimed benefits of increased negative ions are:

  • Enhanced immune system
  • Increased alertness
  • Improved concentration

I am not sure how much of this “research” I actually buy into.  I just know that I feel better when I am near the ocean.  It could be time for a permanent stay at the bathing hospital.

 

Photo credit: PamLink / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

What is Your Child’s Risk of a Heart Attack?

obesity by age and year

Pretty high if you are a Gen-X or Y parent. My last post may have depressed you or even made you a little mad (I think I called you fat).  If so, this post is going to really piss you off.

It looks like Gen-X and Y are passing down the “sit on your ass and eat crap” gene to our kids – the “Net Generation”.  As a result, children today are experiencing high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and elevated cholesterol – previously adult conditions.  Unfortunately, the perfect storm for early-onset cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

NetGen’s Fate

I am not trying to piss anyone off.  As a father, I am very concerned about the declining health of our NetGen children. The American Heart Association (AHA) found that nearly one third of today’s children are overweight or obese – one third!

Although the moniker “NetGen” sounds kind of cool, it does not conjure images of a very active lifestyle.  My kids are in the 6-11 age group in the chart above and my wife and I are in a constant battle to reduce their screen time and get them outside.

I don’t think we are alone in this battle.  This quote from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona puts it in perspective:

Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

I am not sure if that quote is about Gen-X, Y, or the NetGen, but you get the point.

There is Hope

I provide a lot of information on this site about self-improvement.  Hopefully some of that has sunk in and is incorporated into your new healthy lifestyle. Why – because you have a generation to save!

One of the first things you can do for your children is make them aware of heart disease in their family history (if there is any).  My kids are already aware of the crappy hand Dad dealt them.  It’s hard to ignore the big zipper running down the middle of Daddy’s chest.

Smoking has already been established as evil with my children.  My wife and I also frequently speak with our kids about eating healthy and exercising.  Talking is great, but kids learn by watching.  So set a good example – eat your vegetables and exercise (I am assuming you no longer smoke at the dinner table).

Need more help getting your kids to eat their veggies?  Here is an outstanding post on the Fooducate blog that finally unlocks the mystery.  Guess which one of the following three strategies works best to get your kids to eat healthy foods?

  1. Eat it, it’s good for you
  2. Eat it, it’s tasty
  3. Eat it

You guessed it, number three.  We are parents, we can tell our kids what to do.  Eating healthy is not an option.   Now with that mystery finally solved, on to exercise.  Get up off the couch and get active with your kids.  Play with them!  Watching sports on TV with your kids does not count as active playtime.

Let’s Move

I am far from an expert in motivating children.  Just ask the kids and parents on the kindergartener soccer team I coached this year.   What a cluster….I mean challenge.  Fear not, there are a lot of great resources out there to help us parents.  Check out the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative.

The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake. – Michelle Obama

The American Heart Association also has a program called Voices for Heathy Kids.  Both offer similar strategies for reversing the declining health of our children.  Eat healthy and get active!  It’s pretty simple, but definitely a challenge for today’s “over committed” families.

Time for the guilt.  Disregarding our own health is irresponsible enough.  We can’t encourage the same behavior in our children.  A healthy lifestyle is a family commitment.  Just start small, make it fun, and make it a habit.

References:

“Overweight in Children.”  The American Heart Association, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.

“Statistics Fact Sheet – Youth and Cardiovascular Diseases” Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Blaha MJ, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Judd SE, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Mackey RH, Magid DJ, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER 3rd, Moy CS, Mussolino ME, Neumar RW, Nichol G, Pandey DK, Paynter NP, Reeves MJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Towfighi A, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; on behalf of the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2014 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2014;129:e28–e292.

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Relax

Hammock_relaxLife is full of stress.  Before my cardiac arrest and heart attack, my primary two methods of stress reduction were smoking and drinking.  It was the perfect one-two punch.  Smoking, the constant jab, providing immediate stress relief. Drinking, the knockout punch for total relaxation.  My one-two punch served me fairly well for twenty-odd years, only to be derailed by a cardiac arrest.  I was no longer allowed in the ring!  Stick with me and I will show you how I am dealing with stress and even getting better sleep.

Before my event, I knew that my unhealthy lifestyle was not going to lead to a pleasant outcome.  After all, both my father and brother suffered heart attacks before 40.  So how did I deal with the stress of my gloomy cardiac fate?  See one-two punch above.  That’s right, more smoking and drinking!

And then BAM!  Cardiac arrest, heart attack, dead – the Triple Lindy!  As moronic as it sounds, I felt a sense of relief when I ended up in the hospital.  I could now get on with the rest of my life. However, the uncertainty regarding the rest of my life brought on new stress.  Will I fully recover, will I be well enough to support my family, will I be around to see my children grow up?  I have a great cardiologist and he put things into perspective for me.  I can’t remember the exact words, but he advised to put the trauma behind me and live my life as fully as possible.  I could worry about every ache, pain, or what if – or I could go enjoy life.

Do the Right Thing

I still needed to find a way to reduce stress and relax in general.  I considered aromatherapy, but found that just doing the right thing allows me to relax best.  So how does one do the right thing:

  • Act in a respectable and responsible way.  I’m trying. Acting respectable is a challenge.
  • Take ownership for my health and actions.  I do this most of the time.  Exercise has proved a solid replacement for smoking and drinking
  • Have some humility.  I’m trying.  It’s hard when you are the center of the universe.

Again, try and keep it simple.  Don’t be a jerk, do what you’re supposed to do, and get over yourself.

Sleep

Studies have shown the poor sleep can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.  And, cardiovascular disease can decrease the quality of your sleep.  A vicious circle that I have been trying to solve for years.

You would think with all the simplification, healthy eating, and daily exercise, I would be stress free and sleeping like a baby.  Sadly, not true.  I have made progress with reducing stress, but I could use some improvement in the sleep department.  I can fall asleep, I just can’t stay asleep.  I average about six hours per night. If you remember back to Part 1 of this series, I introduced you to Leo Babauta and his Zen Habits site.   On his site, Leo provides a formula for sleeping like a baby:

  1. Exercise – I do this, not sure I can do much more here.
  2. Get up early – I do this, up between 5-6 everyday.
  3. Establish a bedtime ritual – Doing this, but not in the best way.  I read my books on an iPad.
  4. Keep the bedroom only for sleeping – No TV in the bedroom.  Just that damn iPad.
  5. Focus your attention – I need to do this.
  6. Change slowly – OK.

I like that Leo admits he is still not a great sleeper. I also take a magnesium supplement and have installed f.lux on my laptop to assist with sleep.  Magnesium plays a role in sleep regulation and calming down your brain at night.  I have noticed that I fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep since starting the magnesium supplement.  F.lux makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.  I am not sure that it helps me sleep, but my eyes don’t get as strained at night.  I’ll keep it just for that.

That’s the plan.  Simplify your life, eat right, exercise, and relax.  You have a second chance at life.  Experiment, have some fun, and find what is going to keep you engaged and healthy.   Writing this series made me realize just how far I have come and how much I have changed.  I’d love to hear about how other have changed.  What’s your cardiac recovery plan and how’s it working?  Let me know in the comments below!

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4

Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Simplify Your Life

simplifyI thought about changing the title to “Cardiac Recovery Step 1 – More Porn” in order to get you to read this.  A few years ago, I would never have continued past the headline “Simplify your Life”.  Sounds like a load of new age nonsense.

That was before I died.

Now that I have a second chance at life (as may you), I am a little more open to new concepts.  Cardiac recovery begins with simplifying your life.  After all, you may have just lived through a major cardiac event – you don’t need more complexity in your life.  You need to simplify in order to recover, get healthy, and enjoy life.

It’s Simple, So It’s Easy, Right?

Wrong.  Simplifying is difficult; it means shedding bad habits and behaviors.  It means changing the way you live.  It means changing your values.  It means changing the way you think about the things you have and the things you want.  In addition to being an irresponsible man-child, I am also a gadget guy with a short attention span and I like things!  While I still accumulate my fair share of them, here is what I have given up over the past few years:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drinking soda
  • Junk food (mostly)
  • Chocolate (somewhat)
  • Gym membership
  • Cable TV
  • Satellite radio

So why did give all this up?  Smoking and bad genes are what killed me in the first place.  Many people thought I should quit that habit.

Drinking wasn’t helping me out either.  If I drank, I wanted to smoke.  If I drank too much, my heart went into A-fib.  If I was hung over, I wanted to sit on the couch, watch, TV and eat bad food – while in A-fib (told you I was a mess).

There have been a few studies over the years that indicate diet may have a role in heart disease. I have mostly stopped drinking soda, eating junk food, eating handfuls of M&Ms, and chewing a pack of gum a day (did I mention I quit smoking).  As much as possible I eat whole foods and avoid sugar.

Quitting the last three on the list was all about simplification and came with the added benefit of saving money.  I spent more time driving to and from the gym than actually working out at the gym. Cable and satellite can be time sucking black holes of mindless babble.

What do I miss most?  Smoking and Howard Stern.

So what did I gain?  Making a commitment to simplify my life has provided me with more time to eat right, exercise, sleep, and focus on my overall well being.

It’s Simple, So It’s Quick, Right?

Wrong.  There is no quick fix here.  I did a lot of reading and experimenting with different methods to simplify and be more productive.   There are thousands of great books and blogs out there offering all kinds of advice.  A couple that I found helpful were Zen Habits by Leo Babauta and MyrkoThum by well, um,  Myrko Thum.

When I learned Leo Babauta  was previously an out of shape smoker like me, I knew I was in the right place.  Take some time and check out his site.  The site link provided above is to the Getting Started page.  It’s also useful to read his bio.  If I didn’t know better, I would say Leo’s list of changed habits belonged to a cardiac patient.   From quitting smoking, to exercising, eating healthy, and starting a new career.

I have to admit, I am actually not all that familiar with Myrko or his SYSTEM of personal development.  Myrko made MY list because of HIS list at the link above.  A very simple guide to simplification:

  1. Turn down the noise
  2. Clarify what you want and need
  3. Do less without losing anything
  4. Say “No” in Order to Say “Yes”
  5. Declutter
  6. Invite silence into your world

If that list makes you cringe, the site also offers a practical explanation of how to simplify your life in two steps:

“The first is to get clear and to focus on what is really important to you. This means to do more of what makes you truly happy, what you feel you have to do on this world. The second way is to remove as much distraction from your life as possible, so you actually can live in purpose and fulfillment”

For me, this meant getting rid of the unhealthy habits and distractions and focusing on what is important to me and the well being of my family.  Simple enough, right?

If you think you want to explore this topic more, check out the Alltop Lifehack page as a starting off point.  Here you will find everything from how to simplify and declutter to how to build a Bluetooth speaker and why you should own a survival bow & arrow – as if that is not obvious.

I am not following any specific program, list, or person in my path to simplification.  Nor have I quit my job or given away all of my possessions. I just take bits and pieces from all over the place, try a few out, and see what works for cardiac recovery.  When in doubt, I keep it simple.

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Photo credit: Jon Ashcroft / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)