Tag: healthy heart

Work less and eat chocolate for a healthy heart

Work less and eat chocolate for a healthy heart

Eat dark chocolate, watch funny movies, and avoid stressful jobs are ingredients for a healthy heart.

Eat dark chocolate, watch funny movies, avoid stressful jobs, and pedal hard when biking are all ingredients in the recipe for a healthy heart, according to experts meeting in Paris this week.

Whether one is afflicted by a heart attack, high blood pressure or constricted arteries depends in large measure on a host of lifestyle choices. But the ideal formula for avoiding heart problems remains elusive: it is hard to tease apart the factors that impact cardiovascular health, and the right mix of things to do — or not do — can vary from person to person. Even commonsense measures such as exercise or a balanced diet must be fine-tuned.

It is not, for example, how long one rides a bike but the intensity of one’s effort that matters most, according to research presented Monday at a five-day gathering, ending Wednesday, of the European Society of Cardiology.

The study, led by Danish cardiologist Peter Schnohr, showed that men who regularly cycled at a fast clip survive 5.3 years longer than men who pedalled at a much slower pace. Exerting “average intensity” was enough to earn an extra 2.9 years.

Work less and eat chocolate for a healthy heart

For women, the gap was less striking but still significant: 2.9 and 2.2 years longer, respectively, compared to slowpokes. “A greater part of the daily physical activity in leisure time should be vigorous, based on the individual’s own perception of intensity,” Schnohr said in a statement.

The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” was proven true by another study which found that a good dose of humour helps blood vessels.

Michael Miller, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, had already shown in earlier research spanning a decade that men and women with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to see typical life events in a humorous light.

In the new study, he asked volunteers to first watch a stressful movie such as Steven Spielberg 1998 World War II film “Saving Private Ryan.” During harrowing battle scenes, their blood vessel lining developed a potentially unhealthy response called vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow.

But when the same subjects later saw a funny, heart-warming movie the blood vessel linings expanded. Over all, there was “a 30-to-50 percent difference in blood vessel diameter between laughter and mental stress phases,” Miller said.

Acutely stressful working conditions, both physical and mental, have long been associated with poor health. But new research unveiled Monday shows that a mix of intense pressure to produce results coupled with conditions making it hard to meet those demands is a recipe for heart disease, and even early mortality.

Finnish researchers led by Tea Lallukka of the University of Helsinki, in a review of recent academic literature, concluded that “job strain and overtime are associated with unhealthy behaviours, weight gain and obesity,” according to a press release.

At the same time, they noted, “employed people are generally better off.” Perhaps the most painless path to better cardiovascular health is one that comes all-too-naturally to many people: eating chocolate.

Earlier research had established a link between cocoa-based confections and lowered blood pressure or improvement in blood flow, often attributed to antioxidants, but the scale of the impact remained obscure.

Oscar Franco and colleagues from the University of Cambridge reviewed half-a-dozen studies covering 100,000 patients, with and without heart disease, comparing the group that consumed the most and the least chocolate in each.

They found that the highest level of chocolate intake was associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease, and a 20 percent drop in strokes, when compared with the chocolate-averse cohort.

No significant reduction was reported in the incidence of heart attack. The findings, alas, come with an important caveat: the healthful molecules are found in the bitter cacao, not in the sugar and fat with which they are routinely combined.

“Commercially available chocolate is very calorific and eating too much of it could in itself lead to weight gain, risk of diabetes and heart disease.”

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Bad everyday habits for your heart

Bad everyday habits for your heart

Sitting for hours increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, even if you exercise regularly.

Everyone wants to have a healthy heart. Still, cardiovascular disease affects more than 1 in 3 adults in the United States. The good news is that some simple, everyday habits can make a big difference in your ability to live a healthy lifestyle. Here are some worst habits for your heart, and how to avoid them.

Assuming you’re not at risk: Cardiovascular disease—including stroke, heart disease, and heart failure—claims more lives in the United States than any other illness, including cancer.

“Don’t assume you’re not at risk,” says Dr. Ostfeld. High blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, and smoking are all risk factors that should be kept in check.

Sitting for hours on end increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, even if you exercise regularly. “Intermittent exercise doesn’t compensate for the time you sit,” says Harmony R. Reynolds, MD, associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.

Why? The lack of movement may affect blood levels of fats and sugars. Dr. Reynolds advises walking around periodically and, if you’re at work, standing up to talk on the phone.

Leaving hostility and depression unchecked: Are you feeling stressed, hostile, or depressed? It can take a toll on your heart. While everyone feels this way some of the time, how you handle these emotions can affect your heart health. “Those likely to internalize stress are in greater danger; research has shown a benefit to laughter and social support,” Dr. Reynolds says. “And it’s helpful to be able to go to someone and talk about your problems.”

Ignoring the snoring: More than a minor annoyance, snoring can be a sign of something more serious: obstructive sleep apnea. This disorder, marked by breathing that is interrupted during sleep, can cause blood pressure to skyrocket.

More than 18 million Americans adults have sleep apnea, which increases the risk of heart disease. People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for sleep apnea, but slim people can have it too.

If you snore and often wake up feeling tired, talk with your doctor; there are easy ways to screen for apnea, says Robert Ostfeld, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.

Withdrawing from the world: It’s no secret that on some days, other human beings can seem annoying, irritating, and just plain difficult to get along with. However, it makes sense to strengthen your connections to the ones you actually like. People with stronger connections to family, friends, and society in general tend to live longer, healthier lives. Everyone needs alone time, but you should still reach out to others and keep in touch whenever you can.

You’re either all or nothing: Call it the Weekend Warrior Syndrome. “I see so many people in their 40s and 50s dive into exercising with good intentions, hurt themselves, and then stop exercising all together,” says Judith S. Hochman, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU.

With exercise, it’s wise to aim for slow and steady. “It’s more important to have a regular exercise commitment,” says Dr. Reynolds. “Be in it for the long game.”

Drinking (too much) alcohol: Sure, studies suggest a small amount of alcohol may be good for your heart. Alas, too many over-imbibe. Excess alcohol is linked to a greater risk of high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, and heart failure. In addition, the extra calories can lead to weight gain, a threat to heart health.

If you drink, stick to no more than two drinks per day for men, and no more than one a day for women. (One drink means a 12-ounce beer or 4-ounce glass of wine).

Overeating: Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease, and 72% of men and 64% of women in the U.S are overweight or obese. Try to eat less, avoid oversize portions, and replace sugary drinks with water.

Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Hochman also suggest cutting portion sizes for high-calorie carbohydrates (think refined pastas and breads) and watching out for foods labeled “low-fat,” which are often high in calories.

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