7 Habits of Highly Effective Hearts

Summary

Heart disease and its associated risk factors remains the biggest killer in the modern world. Recently, the American Heart Association released a new online resource called My Life Check that highlighted seven health and lifestyle factors crucial to keeping the ‘ticker’ healthy into older age. These include not smoking, keeping the body mass index below 25, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and keeping total cholesterol, fasting blood glucose and blood pressure under control. They have also developed a ‘cool test’ online that can help you check your heart health.

Introduction

I scan the aging and masters athlete research literature regularly. I also get almost daily e-mail updates from all the respected health, exercise and sport databases. The American Heart Association recently identified what they consider the seven health and lifestyle factors that are the “fountain of youth for your heart”. One of my aims with www.mastersathlete.com.au is to bring you the latest scientifically-valid information on how current research can help us lead a healthier, longer and exercise-focused life. I hope you find the outcomes of this article of benefit.

Believe it or not, research has shown that only 5% of Americans currently meet all seven criteria below. The good news is that the President of the American Heart Association  believes that if you can reach age 50 with ideal heart health, you can probably live another 40 years free of heart disease and stroke, two of the most common causes of death.

Here are “Life’s Simple 7”.

  1. Never smoked or quit more than one year ago. Smoking is a killer and the most preventable cause of death with inactivity as close second behind it. Smoking increases the risk of atherosclerosis (the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries), decreases tolerance to exercise, increases the risk of blood clots, decreases the levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) in the blood, and increases the risk of peripheral artery disease, all of which are linked to heart disease.
  2. Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 25. BMI assesses your body weight relative to your height. Check your BMI out now. While there are limitations in using BMI (e.g. highly muscled people that are short are disadvantaged), research has shown that people with BMI’s greater than 25 are at greater risk of poor heart health. A BMI greater than 30 significantly increases the risk again. In both America and Australia over half of the adult population have BMI’s above 25 and that’s a worry!
  3. Physical activity at least 150 minutes moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous (huff and puff) each week. Or a combination of the two. Moderate intensity means getting the heart rate (about 65-70% of your maximum heart rate [220-age] and breathing noticeably up whereas vigorous means huffing and puffing with heart rate about 75% of maximum. Regular exercise, like we as masters athletes take for granted, helps most of the heart disease risk factors by lowering blood pressure, increasing HDL “good” cholesterol in the blood, helping control blood sugar by improving how your muscles use insulin, reduces feelings of stress, and helps control body weight. It’s all good!!!
  4. Four to five key components of a healthy diet. These include
    1. Fruit and vegetables (4-5 cups or more per day)
    2. Fish, preferably oily fish such as salmon and mackerel (2 or more servings per week)
    3. Less than 450 calories (approx. 1900 kilojoules) or 36 ounces (approx 1.1 litres) of sugar-sweetened drinks per week.
    4. Fibre-rich whole grains (3 or more one ounce [approx. 28 grams) servings per day.
    5. Less than 1,500 milligrams per day. More than 70% of people exceed this.
  5. Total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL (5.2 mmol/L). Cholesterol is needed by us all to help build cell membranes and some hormones. The body makes most of it naturally and about 25% comes from food. Too much of it in food leads to increased levels in the blood which contributes to clogged arteries and thus heart disease. Eating saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol itself increase total cholesterol level while eating low amounts of these plus maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly lower total cholesterol.
  6. Blood pressure below 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is the single greatest risk factor for heart disease. One in three adults has high blood pressure with about a quarter of the population not even knowing they have it. We can maintain or lower blood pressure by eating a heart-healthy diet, reducing salt intake; enjoying regular physical activity; maintaining a healthy weight; managing stress; limiting alcohol; and avoiding tobacco smoke.
  7. Fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L).   Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes. When diabetes is detected, a doctor may prescribe changes in eating habits, weight control, exercise programs and medication to keep it in check.

The American Heart Association strongly recommends adults to ‘know their heart health numbers’ (cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting glucose, BMI). Get to your family doctor if you don’t especially if you have a family history of any heart disease or associated risk factors. You want to have some fun and have a go at the American Heart Association new online resource called My Life Check. I found it reassuring, educational and fun.