The Heart of the Matter

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heart health - maritime wellness

Healthy food in heart and cholesterol diet concept on vintage boards

Heart disease is running rampant throughout the United States. While over 600,000 people die of it annually, there are millions more who live “with” heart disease. These individuals fight every day to uphold the quality of their lives that the disease adversely impacts. Studies show that heart disease sufferers have higher instances of depression and those who live through a heart failure reported an 80% decrease in their quality of life.

The heart is about the size of an adult fist and is best known for its pumping action that circulates nearly 2,000 gallons of blood daily bringing water, nutrients and oxygen to every part of the body. The heart is also a part of an electrical system that manages the rate and rhythm of a heartbeat. When the heart gets sick or malfunctions, it generally falls into two types of problems: one where blood cannot reach the heart due to blockage or when the electrical system shorts out. We generally define these problems as different types of heart disease.

While we do not always know the direct causes of heart disease, we do know that if we address the general risk factors, we can minimize or even eliminate the effects of the disease. Modifiable risk factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, high triglyceride levels and changing lifestyle behaviors to reduce risk can alter all diabetes. Many potential lifestyle alterations like quitting smoking are widely discussed, yet there are others that are lesser known.

1. Hydrate: Your blood is about 94% water. Without water, blood gets thick and less viscous. A 2016 study conducted at University of Arkansas – Fayetteville demonstrated that just mild dehydration caused impairment to vascular function nearly as much as smoking a cigarette.

2. The Big Fat & Cholesterol Reversal: The 1950’s hypothesis that saturated fat and cholesterol should not be consumed due to their poor impact on heart health is no longer supported by research. While cholesterol (saturated fat’s partner in foods) is a concern for those with heart disease it is the cholesterol the body makes on its own that is the concern.

“Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong. … studies showed no association between saturated fat consumption and (1) all-cause mortality, (2) coronary heart disease (CHD), (3) CHD mortality, (4) ischemic stroke or (5) type 2 diabetes in healthy adults,” according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine (April 25, 2017). The review also said that “LDL cholesterol is not associated with cardiovascular disease and is inversely associated with all-cause mortality.” The statement is supported by UCLA David Gaffen School of Medicine (2009), where they found that 75% of heart attack victims have “normal” levels of LDL.

Saturated fats can be a part of a heart healthy diet, and can decrease the risk of heart disease. Nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, whole eggs, quality meats and quality oils, such as extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are worth another look.

One risk factor for the largest subset of heart disease sufferers (those with coronary artery disease) is the consumption of sugar. This has been shown to raise triglycerides, LDL, blood pressure and produces fat in the body. Eliminating added sugars and those items that produce high sugar levels in the blood might be a great move toward protecting your heart.

3. The Heartbeat Variation: A normal resting heart rate depends on age, but generally lies between 50-100 beats per minute. The lower side of that number is an indication of stronger heart health. Wearables with heart rate monitoring are a great way to track this simple metric or you can calculate it manually by placing fingers on your neck pulse and counting beats per minute. Rapid fluctuations and elevations over time in resting heart rate can be discussed with your doctor.  

The heart also strengthens with rate variation. Targeting your heart rate into a healthy zone while exercising can help ignite muscle growth. Target numbers vary between 180 minus your age (Example: At 21 years of age, your target zone is 159) all the way up to 220 minus your age, giving you the upper end of the heart rate zone. A heart monitor watch or device can give you close to real time feedback on heart rate to help you hone in on heart health. If you are new to varying your heart rate, get some help from a professional trainer and target activities that will help you build strength with enjoyment.

Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. All medical advice should be sought from a medical professional.

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