Heart health for Longevity

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Keeping the heart healthy to ensure longevity

There are many cardiac conditions that can impact heart health throughout your life. Some of these cardiac conditions can range from a simple skipped heart beat or altered heart rate (atrial fibrillation) to more severe heart conditions such as chronic heart failure and aneurysms that can go undetected. Arterial diseases may well lead to very severe heart conditions.

Knowledge is the key to managing and preventing heart conditions.

When to seek a dr.’s advice on underlying heart conditions:

According to the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) three risk stratification categories are set out for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) to easily ascertain the risk of having a cardiac event:

  • Low risk –Individuals who do not have any signs and symptoms of CVD or have less than one of the below mentioned risk factors.
  • Medium risk – Individuals who do not have any signs and symptoms of CVD and have less than two of the below mentioned risk factors.
  • High risk – Men or woman who have known cardiac risk factors or one or more signs and symptoms listed below.

It is recommended that CVD risk screening should start around the age of 20 and should be done on a continuous basis thereafter, i.e. yearly. It is recommended that individuals who fall in the medium to high risk category keep a continuous eye out for signs and symptoms and should seek medical advice and apply preventative techniques to remain healthy.

CVD risk factors include the following

  • Age: Men older than 45 years and woman older than 55 years
  • Family history: Deaths in close relatives in men under age 55 and females under age 65
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity: BMI over 30kg/m2 or waist circumferences in men greater than 102cm and females 88cm
  • Hypertension: Readings that are higher than 140/90mmHg
  • Cholesterol: readings higher than 200mg/DL-1
  • Prediabetes

Signs and symptoms suggestive of Cardiovascular disease

  • Pain in the chest, neck, jaw or arms. A typical pain associated with cardiac conditions is referred to as a crushing or squeezing type of pain rather than a stab or shocking pain.
  • Shortness of breath while at rest or when doing minimally exerting work.
  • Dizziness or syncope (loss of consciousness) can indicate an obstruction in the arteries leading to the brain and thus decreasing levels of oxygen delivered to the organs.
  • Dyspnea while sleeping, dyspnea is difficulty in breathing and stopping breathing all together. It is usually relieved by sitting up or getting out of bed.
  • Ankle edema: This is excessive fluid accumulation typically around the ankles but can be found in all parts of the body. This can be bilaterally or in one limb on its own.
  • Palpitations or a tachycardia is the unpleasant awareness of a racing heart or more forceful beats. It can be either slowing of the heart beats to skipping heart beats.
  • Intermittent claudication is the pain in a muscle that is exacerbated by exercise and stops when exercise is stopped. Usually occurring in the calves.

The effects of Diabetes on the heart

In patients with diabetes mellitus there are a few modifiable risk factors that have a strong relationship to cardiac conditions such as high cholesterol readings, increased blood pressure as well as smokers. Also common among diabetics are central neuropathy. This is when the individual does not experience any chest pains during cardiac events and thus other signs and symptoms should be considered.

Effects of cholesterol on the heart

Individuals with high cholesterol readings are more susceptible to plaque formation in the arteries. This plaque builds up and causes lesions on the arterial walls causing blockages and thus decreasing the amount of oxygen flowing to the heart. Depending on the circumstances and positioning of the blockages different cardiac and other medical issues can arise, such as angina or a heart attack.

Exercising to keep healthy

When you fall within a high to medium risk category you can partake in mild to moderate exercise intensity. Mild exercise would include such activities as walking or gentle cycling. For a low risk individual vigorous exercise is possible. This could include high intensity work outs such as cross fit or aerobics. It is recommended that a medium risk individual first seek advice from a medical professional before doing any vigorous exercise as this can place excessive pressure on the heart muscles.  High risk individuals should first seek medical advice before partaking in exercise or physical activities but low intensity exercise will most likely deliver positive results.

Exercise is proven to decrease the effects of cholesterol on the heart. This is due to a certain type of cholesterol that is good for your heart (High-density lipoproteins) that increases while exercising. Exercise also helps prevent sugar spikes in diabetics.

One needs to be aware that certain medications can alter your heart rate response while exercising and you should consult your doctor to determine if any of your medications have that effect. If you do, rather gauge your exercise intensity on your perceived exertion rather than your actual heart rate.

The bottom line on heart health

The heart is one of your most important and one of your most vulnerable organs. Frequent monitoring of heart health combined with a healthy active lifestyle and balanced diet will aid you in living a long and productive life. It is better to start with a preventative lifestyle and ensure heart health from as early as possible. However, modern medicine has made leaps and bounds in cardiac treatment and it is never too late to work towards optimal heart health.

Further Reading

  1. Exercise management for persons with chronic diseases and disabilities
  2. ACSM’s guidelines for testing and prescription
  3. Risk factors for coronary artery disease in non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus: United Kingdom prospective diabetes study
  4. AHA Guidelines for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and stroke: 2002 Update

Author: Megan Brunsdon

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