Why not show your heart some love

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 3:43 p.m.
I was asked to write a column about the different types of heart conditions. The person who wanted to know more about this topic wondered if it was too late to start being good to her heart.
Yes, you guessed it, she is my age and in the category that is known as the elderly. My short answer to her was that it is never too late to do something good for yourself, as in taking care of your heart.
So consider this the time to say, ''hello, my heart, from this day forward I intend to show you a little love.'' Sounds a little silly? Well, think about this, the things we love we take care of. We give gifts to loved ones, make calls to cheer loved ones on, give hugs and kisses, send special nonverbal messages that say you are special, or just smile when we remember something special that a loved one said or did for us.
Just think about it. Without the beat of our heart, which maintains a balance of nutrients, oxygen and all of the other complex components that our body needs for survival, we would not be able to do any of the things I have mentioned.
Can we just get along with this important body part? Is it a coincidence that when the heart is drawn as a symbol of love that it looks like the love day logo, the valentine? I think we cannot only get along with our heart, but we can show it a little favoritism.
I want to try to explain how complex the heart is, but just think of it as having four major parts, namely the right and left atriums and the right and left ventricles. These four chambers contain valves that open and close to regulate the amount of blood that flows through them on its way to the lower body, the lungs and up to the head.
There are major arteries that are involved and the care that you give your heart will help to keep them healthy as well. Add to the major arteries a complicated system of smaller arteries, veins and capillaries, and you have the system that furnishes what we might call our life blood.
Now, why in the world do you need to know all of this? I think it is helpful to know that there are many ways the heart can be damaged. Anytime there is a blockage along the arteries, a valve that does not function well, a defect in the major arteries connecting the heart to the lungs and the rest of the body, a major problem can develop.
Given the fact that the heart is a muscle that requires exercise means that it will respond as any other muscle does and become stronger with regular workouts.
In other words, there is no pill or elixir that will take the place of exercise. That said, you don't have to buy all of the gadgets that you see on television in order to maintain a regular workout for your heart's sake. All you need to do is walk.
It is best that you plan to increase your pace at some point and also add distance as you progress, but any walking is better than none.
Be sure that you check with your health care provider to get the OK for beginning anything new in regards to exercise. If you have been a couch potato, it is not a good idea to expect to start with a three-mile walk.
Physicians have become more convinced that regular exercise is important in the prevention of heart disease. Recent studies show a 30 percent reduction in coronary artery disease in those who exercise regularly in comparison to those with a sedentary lifestyle.
If you enjoy some other activity, remember that any activity that allows you to increase your heart rate to a certain level is good for you. Called aerobic exercise or activity, these activities include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, rowing, cross-country skiing, stair climbing and dancing.
Some researchers and experts say that we should strive to do aerobic exercise for 20-30 minutes 3-5 times a week. Walking 10-20 miles per week will accomplish our goal. It is important to realize that we don't have to run marathons to get the benefit.
Now take a look at other behaviors that affect the condition of your heart. If you are a smoker, try quitting. By doing so, you decrease the chance of getting heart disease within the first two years after your last cigarette. If you are 60 years old and quit smoking, you add 5-7 years to your life span.
You are probably aware that if you are going to take care of your heart, you will need to know what your cholesterol is and find ways to keep yours in the normal ranges in order to protect your heart.
Unfortunately, a significant number of people in this country have elevated cholesterol levels. This is one of the reasons why heart disease is, by far, the leading cause of death in the United States. Recent studies indicate that a 1 percent increase in cholesterol leads to a 2 percent increase in the risk of heart disease.
Although your doctor will evaluate you and decide if you need to take medication for your cholesterol, healthy choices that we make in our food selection can be beneficial as well. Consider trying the following suggestions:
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Serve whole-grain bread and cereals.
  • Use low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt, and choose cheeses that are lower in fat.
  • Include starchy foods like potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • Skip toppings like butter, margarine, gravy and sour cream that add extra fat and calories. Try using grated Parmesan cheese, herbed cottage cheeses or low-fat yogurt toppings instead.
  • Select lean meats like chicken, turkey, fish, beef (top round, eye of round, top loin, sirloin and lean hamburger) and lean pork (tenderloin, loin chops and ham). Trim off all visible fat and remove skin from poultry.
  • Choose margarine and vegetable oils like canola, corn, sunflower, soybean and olive oils.
  • Try angel food cake, frozen fruit bars, or low-fat frozen yogurt in place of rich creamy desserts.
  • Use non-stick vegetable sprays to reduce added fat when cooking.
  • Use fat-free cooking methods like baking, broiling, grilling, poaching, or steaming when preparing meat, poultry and fish.
  • Serve vegetable- and broth-based soups, or use low-fat milk in cream-based soups.
    Other factors that relate to a healthy heart include controlling blood pressure, combating obesity and finding ways to decrease the stress in our lives.
    Show how much you love your heart by doing something. I hope you will save this column. Find a starting point for yourself, make it a small one, achieve that goal then add another.
    It's your heart, so show your love.
    Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing at Santa Fe Community College. Write to her in care of the Gainesville Guardian, "Health Files," 2700 SW 13th St., Gainesville, Fla. 32608. You can also e-mail your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to news@gainesvilleguardian.com.
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