A Heart-Healthy Life

September 29th is World Heart Day. Despite the pandemic, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in our world today. Almost 18 million deaths a year around the world can be attributed to cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease includes coronary heart disease (eg think heart attack), heart failure or any other disease of the heart as well as diseases of the blood vessels of the brain (cerebrovascular disease) and rest of the body. We don’t usually think of the hardest working if not the strongest muscle in our body when we think of working out or showing off our muscles. Not referring to the quads, or chest or back. It’s our heart. The purpose of this day is to bring awareness to our hearts and help promote heart-healthy lifestyle. (Word “strongest” could be debatable per interpretation of the word. However, the heart pumps out about 2,000 gallons of blood daily!)

One can unknowingly weaken their heart over the years by following unhealthy life habits. What could these be? First to come to mind include unhealthy eating, living sedentary lifestyles and smoking.  There are some cardiovascular disease risk factors that we inherent, however for the aforementioned ones we can take control and help minimize mainly  by 1. Eating healthily  2. Drinking wisely 3. Being more active 4. Quitting smoking


1.Eating well

Some simple measures we can take to help reduce heart disease risk while going about our busy days consist of controlling our portion sizes, including more vegetables and (most) fruits in our plates (this doesn’t include the canned fruits that are saturated in syrups, frozen fruits that have added sugar, fried vegetables or vegetables in heavy cream sauces), using whole grains instead of refined grains (eg limiting donuts, biscuits, corn bread), limiting saturated fats and trying to use healthier fats (eg olive oil, nuts, avocados) and reducing salt intake. Let’s decrease processed foods, which often have considerable amount of added salts and added sugars. Excessive salt intake and weight gain lead to increased blood pressure, which is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.


2.Drinking Wisely

Let’s decrease our liquid calorie intake by cutting down or eliminating sugary beverages.  Don’t drink orange juice but just eat an orange instead. It will be less calories, and instead of it being a shot of concentrated sugar as in orange juice, it will be a lesser amount carbs with its naturally found fibers and other nutrients. Do you need coffee in the mornings? Black coffee is 5 calories. A coffee drink with whip cream, syrups, and more can add up to 100 times that. Let’s also not forget that calories from alcoholic beverages from those can add up before you know it and therefore be sure not to pass the daily recommended limit (1 drink for female, 2 drinks for male).


3.Being More active

30 minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 times a week or at least a total of 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity weekly is recommended for cardiovascular benefits. We may immediately think of exercise as running and immediately start thinking of all the joints that will hurt. Exercise can be something you enjoy. Walking, gardening, house work, swimming just to name a few.  If you can’t go outside or are stuck at home or at the office, it doesn’t mean you can’t exercise.   You can make an aerobic exercise out of circuit resistance training.  Ever heard of a 7 minute workout? Do 30 seconds of each with 10 seconds of rest before moving to next exercise: Jumping jacks, wall sit, push up, crunch, step up onto chair, squat, triceps dip on chair, plank, alternate high knees in place, lunge, push up and rotation, side plank.  That’s 7 minutes of vigorous exercise. Repeat it one more time and you get 14 minutes.  You don’t need any tools or weights. You can do this anywhere. (click here to read more about benefits of physical activity)


4. Stop smoking.

There’s nothing good smoking does to one’s body. It affects your heart, your lungs, and your mental health just to name a few. You might think, “no, it gives me a quick temporary relief from the stressors of the world.” While that last sentence might be true, the word temporary is the key word there. So many former smokers have admitted to me that in hindsight, now that they have stepped out of the picture, they can see how it put them into a vicious somewhat depressive cycle. It actually leads to more stress. If all of this isn’t enough reason, how about benefiting your wallet, decreasing risk of premature wrinkles, allowing you to run after your kids without being short of breath? How about being able to enjoy the taste of food or smell different aromas to the fullest? Stopping smoking will help with all of this. Is anyone up for facts? Sometimes we may need to hear facts to bring forth the reality of a situation. The health benefits start immediately when you quit. By the time a third of the day passes, your blood oxygen level will increase.  In smokers, the blood carbon monoxide levels can be twice the amount found normally in a nonsmoker.  In a very heavy, 2-pack-a-day smoker this amount can be FOUR times the normal amount.  This doesn’t sound healthy right? This is the carbon monoxide that we get monitors in our houses for so that we don’t die unknowingly from carbon monoxide poisoning. Just 12 hours after stopping smoking, carbon monoxide levels drop to normal. Just three days after quitting smoking breathing gets easier, within 1-3 months circulation and lung function improve and in 1 year the risk of having a heart attack can be halved! Within 15 years of quitting smoking, your risk of coronary vascular disease returns to that of a nonsmoker.


Let’s be more mindful of our hearts. Our hearts start working for us, starting all the way from three weeks after conception until our last breath. Let’s be gentler to our hearts and take care of them. While doing so, you may notice that your stress level is far less, you feel better and you’re living a healthier, fuller life.


Until next time, take care of yourself and your heart,


Dr. Efe Sahinoglu

Birmingham Direct Primary Care

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