Walk! It Is Good for Your Heart

Walking is an intrinsic human function that serves many roles. First of all, it helps clear the mind, pace the thoughts and calm us down. Second, it is a great exercise that helps tone the legs, shed extra weight, improve lung ventilation and overall health. It is also a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease. It temporarily quickens the heart rate, increasing blood circulation through the body and bringing more oxygen to other organs. At the same time, walking increases the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen from the air, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Walking can help slow down the aging process and it works no matter what age you get started. It is low impact, requires no special equipment or skills and can be done at any time of the day and at your own pace. Moreover, you can walk without worrying about the risks usually associated with some vigorous forms of exercise.

When we walk, we carry our own body weight. It is called weight-bearing exercise and some of its benefits are:

  • Increased heart and lung fitness
  • Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improved management of hypertension, diabetes, muscular and joint stiffness
  • Improved blood lipid profile
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Reduced body fat.

To get overall as well as the heart health benefits, it is necessary to walk at least 30 minutes per day as briskly as possible. Briskly means that you can still talk, but can be slightly puffing. It doesn’t even have to be non-stop; three ten-minute walks a day will work as efficiently too. You will help lower blood pressure and strengthen the heart just by walking regularly. Therefore, try to make walking your daily routine by:

  • Taking the stairs and avoiding elevator
  • Getting off public transport one or two stops earlier and walking to the final destination (home or work)
  • Walking, not driving, to the local shops
  • Walking your children to school
  • Parking your car further from your destination.

As it has been mentioned, regular walking triggers anti-aging processes and also helps repair old DNA. In order to stay motivated, walk with friends or co-workers at lunch, walk your or your neighbor’s dog, join a walking club, use a pedometer or your phone app to measure the number of steps made per day and start increasing it gradually. It is recommended to start off with 2, 000 steps and work toward the 5, 000-step goal. Once you’ve met the desired goal, you may just want to maintain your fitness level or set a goal of 10, 000 steps. Remember, even a little walking is good, but more is better.

However, put your safety first. If the weather is harsh and the streets are slippery, you’d better walk in a mall, down long hallways or on the stairs.

Is Running Good for Your Heart?

It is needless to say that running, as well as any other regular endurance exercise, changes the heart. Being a muscular organ, the heart, like all muscles in the body, adapts to the stress of exercise. The question is whether these adaptations are good for the heart or not.

The WHO recommends adults to moderately exercise for 150 minutes or intensely for 75 minutes weekly. They say running can help prevent obesity, high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes and stroke, and improve the quality of emotional and mental wellbeing. It also helps to live longer.

Of course, running regularly cannot make us immortal, but it is effective at extending life expectancy. Several studies found that a mere 5 to 10 minutes of running a day, reduces the risk of heart disease and premature mortality from all causes.

A routine of regular running is highly effective in prevention of many chronic conditions, cardiovascular diseases, and improves heart health. However, long-term excessive endurance exercise, such as running in marathons, can cause pathologic structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries.

Since human body is not meant for running long distances, excessive running can be dangerous for the heart. Instead of steady state movement, our bodies are made to do physical activity in bursts of exertion followed by recovery. In fact, almost most sports are based on stop-and-go movements, and statistics suggests that physical variability is one of the most important things to consider in running.

Physical variability is also important from the point of view of internal effects on the body. Excessive steady state endurance exercises increase the production of free radicals in the body, reduce immune function, degenerate joints, cause muscle wasting and pro-inflammatory response in the body that can result in heart attack and chronic diseases. Besides damage to all the organs in the body, free radicals damage the skin and make us look older.

Running is like a coin which has two sides, and if done improperly, it can have severe consequences. If you overdo high intensity exercise, engaging in prolonged sessions daily and over-working your body, you put yourself at risk of lowering immunity response and injuries. On the other hand, when we run, the heart beats faster as the activity strengthens it. With regular running, the resting heart rate gets lower, which extends the heart’s life.

So, how much running is good for the heart? Aim at daily exercise, performing different activities to maintain challenge and to dodge overuse injuries. Run several miles a week and aim at 9 minute per mile pace. Introduce running slowly, building up your muscles and speed gradually. Mind signals from your body. If you have any discomfort, back off and search medical evaluation.

Cardiomyopathy: A Big Heart Is Not Always A Good Thing

Having a ‘big heart’ may be a great thing in metaphorical terms but in literal cases, it is a serious medical condition. Enlargement of the heart muscles is known as cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy is actually a group of conditions that affect the ability of the heart muscles to pump blood.

The human heart consists of four chambers- two atria and two ventricles. The atria receive blood and the ventricles pump blood out of the heart. These chambers are made of a special type of muscle called cardiac muscle. Cardiomyopathy affects the size and shape of the heart muscles.

Cardiomyopathy can involve stiffening of the heart muscles, thickening of the muscles, or stretching of the cardiac muscles.

Types Of Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathies are of four main types: dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, and restrictive cardiomyopathy.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

This is a type of condition in which the heart muscles become thin and stretched which makes them weak and unable to pump blood adequately. This is the most common type of cardiomyopathy.

Thinning of the heart muscle causes enlargement of the heart. The weakness of the heart can lead to heart failure.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

This is a genetic form of cardiomyopathy in which there is thickening of the heart muscles which restricts the flow of blood through the heart and from the heart to the rest of the body. The thickening of the walls of the heart means that the heart can’t hold as much blood as it should be able to.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy often goes undiagnosed but it is a leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people.

Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia

In this type of cardiomyopathy, the cardiac muscle of the ventricles is replaced by fat and fibrous tissue. This is a rare form of cardiomyopathy.

Loss of cardiac muscle cells can lead to heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. This type of cardiomyopathy is called by a mutation in the genes that control proteins that produce cardiac cells. This causes cell death of the cardiac muscle cells and the dead cells are replaced by fibrous tissue and fat.

Restrictive Cardiomyopathy

In restrictive cardiomyopathy, the walls of the ventricles stiffen and are unable to relax. This affects the pumping of blood out of the heart. It is the least common form of cardiomyopathy.

The cause is unknown but it can be caused by scarring after a heart transplant or it may be an inherited condition.

Other types of cardiomyopathy include stress cardiomyopathy, secondary cardiomyopathy, and ischemic cardiomyopathy.

Symptoms Of Cardiomyopathy

Since cardiomyopathy affects the pumping functions of the heart, it can give rise to the following symptoms:

  • Breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia)
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Low exercise tolerance
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Swelling of the extremities especially the feet and legs
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
  • Persistent coughing, especially while lying down

Treatment Of Cardiomyopathy

Prior to initiation of treatment, an accurate diagnosis of cardiomyopathy is required. Diagnosis of cardiomyopathy involves a thorough physical exam, electrocardiography (ECG), blood test, genetic testing, and echocardiography.

Treatment of cardiomyopathy can include the following approaches:

Lifestyle changes such as a low salt diet, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol intake.

Medications to treat high blood pressure, swelling and fluid retention, chest pain, abnormal heart rhythms, and medications to manage heart failure.

Surgical procedures to remove the thickened heart muscle

Implantation of a pacemaker

Heart transplant (in severe cases)

Implantation of an internal defibrillator

Who Is At Risk For Cardiomyopathy?

Family history and genetic factors are one of the biggest predators for development of cardiomyopathy. Other factors that put a person at risk for cardiomyopathy are:

  • Severe obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Chronic hypertension
  • Heart attack
  • HIV/AIDS

Cardiomyopathy can be life-threatening but it often goes undiagnosed. Being aware of your family history regarding cardiac conditions as well as regular heart check-ups can help to detect this condition and initiate treatment if needed.

5 Surprising Causes of Heart Disease

Heart disease is known as a silent killer. Most of the time its strikes unexpectedly or is detected at deadly stages. However, early discovery is the key. Besides the obvious causes of heart disease, there are additional factors you should watch out for. Here are 5 surprising causes of heart disease and how to prevent it.

Loneliness. While this sound like a cliché, there is an actual truth to it. Based on studies, the risk of heart diseases can go up at least 30 percent due to depression and loneliness. Unintended Isolation and loneliness can cause undue stress, high blood pressure and depression. When this happens certain brain chemicals also change, causing more damage to your body. It’s important to have a good social support and to distress. Also, if you feel the onset of depression, its best to immediately seek professional help.

Regular Drinking. Regular alcohol consumption can not only result in addiction and liver illness, but hardening of arteries as well. Cholesterol level can increase as well. A contributing factor in heart disease. It is okay to drink occasionally, and do drink moderately.

Recurrent Flu. If you regularly have the flu, it’s definitely a cause for concern and it is not just the flu itself. Being a viral condition, a person suffering from the flu can have a severely decreased immune system. That’s why a flu often comes with a cough, cold and other illnesses. Unfortunately, a weakened immune system can be prone to heart disease because the virus can get in the heart valves and canals, which in turn will weaken the tissues.

Lack of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an important nutrient needed by the body. A lack of the said vitamin has been known to cause heart diseases in some people. The good thing is that vitamin D is easily obtainable from foods like oily fish, green leafy veggies, egg yolks, orange juice and soy milk. You can have yourself checked if the vitamin D deficiency is severe. The doctor will likely provide supplements or vitamin D shots.

Diet Pills. Although maintaining a healthy weight is important, how you do it is significant as well. Diet pills, for instance, can cause more harm than good. Some diet pills have chemicals which can weaken heart muscles and block arteries and lead to heart diseases. Go the safer route: exercise and a good diet. It’s the longer way to lose weight, but it’s still the best. If you really want to take diet pills, consult a doctor. At least a medical practitioner can provide you with an informed choice and sound medical advice.