Tuesday, 23 August 2011

How young is your heart?

A healthy heart is vital for healthy living, regardless of one's age or gender. One can prevent major cardiovascular risks, like heart attacks and strokes by choosing a healthy diet, being physically active and not smoking. This will help the heart to age more slowly.

Physical activity and heart health

Physical inactivity is a significant contributor to the ageing of heart, as it can lead to excess weight gain and obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Heart is a muscle that needs regular exercise to keep pumping blood efficiently with every heart beat. Regular activity and its effect on the associated risk factors will help:
  • Slow down the narrowing of arteries to the heart and brain
  • Encourage the body to use up excess stored fat, so it is crucial in helping weight loss and fighting obesity
  • Improve cholesterol levels by increasing the level of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood
  • Maintain normal blood glucose levels in order to manage diabetes
  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Smokers to quit - smokers who exercise are twice as successful in their attempts to stop smoking
Being active also improves the overall health, gives more energy, reduces stress, builds stronger bones and muscles, and improves balance, strength and mobility.

What type of activity is best?

For overall good health one should include aerobic (endurance type) and strengthening activities and stretching exercises:
  • Aerobic activity is the best exercise for the heart. This includes brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, gardening, etc; any activity that uses the heart, lungs and muscles over a period of time. As well as strengthening your heart, exercise uses up calories, helping with weight control.
  • Strengthening activities work on the stomach and lower back muscles. Stronger, larger muscles use up more calories, so climbing stairs, digging in the garden and walking uphill will help to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Stretching exercises help promote flexibility by including activities such as T'ai Chi and yoga.
Choose to move!

Start exercising slowly and increase the time, intensity (high breathing rate but still able to speak) and frequency of activity as the heart gets stronger. For adults, at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and for children 60 minutes a day will help reduce risk factors. Although physical activity is perfectly safe for most people, sometimes it's important to ask for a doctor’s advise before exercising.

A healthy diet

To help maintain a young heart for life, calories consumed must be balanced with calories burned. It is therefore recommended to combine exercise with a balanced diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, lean meat, fish and pulses, as well as low-fat and fat-free products, unsaturated soft margarines and oils such as sunflower, corn, rape-seed and olive oil.

Say no to tobacco

Smoking, or any use of tobacco, is another important risk factor of heart disease. Quitting using tobacco lowers blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein "LDL" cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels, reduces blood clotting and the chance of a sudden blockage of an artery. Setting a good example by not using tobacco gives a clear, consistent message about the dangers of tobacco to children.

Be successful

A big part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle depends on knowing how be motivated along the way. Here are some steps that could help:
  1. Find the appropriate information needed. A local heart charity can provide information about risk factors and the actions to be taken to reduce these.
  2. Be aware of risk areas. These include family history, Body Mass Index (BMI), waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking and physical inactivity.
  3. Set achievable goals. Break down goals for healthy eating and physical activity into small achievable parts and develop an action plan to keep on track.
  4. Keep track of the progress. Keep track of activities and successes and reward yourself each time you achieve a goal.
  5. Take support from people around. The people around can be highly motivating by participating in a healthy lifestyle, or by reminding to keep up with new habits.
  6. Avoid perfectionism. If you miss an exercise, succumb to tobacco cravings, eat an unhealthy meal, just get back on track immediately with more determination to establish a heart-healthy lifestyle.

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