Your heart is the hardest-working muscle in your body. It never takes a break, even when you're sleeping. An adult heart beats an average of 80 times per minute. That's 115,000 times in a day and about 42 million cardio beats every year. And then there's the "vascular" part of the cardiovascular system - a network of arteries, veins, and capillaries that span roughly 60,000 miles. They move 1 to 2 gallons of blood through the body every day. It's an amazing system that deserves proper care.
If your cardiovascular system could talk, it would ask for just a few simple things from you:
A healthy, steady weight. Too much body fat strains your heart, forcing it to work even harder than it already does. Constant weight fluctuations caused by yo-yo dieting are also dangerous. Studies have shown that people who consistently lose large amounts of weight and then gain it back have a higher risk of developing heart disease. Talk to your doctor about how to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
A smoke-free environment. Smoking is extremely dangerous for the cardiovascular system. Each puff of nicotine temporarily increases your heart rate and blood pressure. This means the heart is working even harder, but circulating less oxygen-rich blood through the body. Smoking also leads to clumping or stickiness in the blood vessels feeding the heart. There are numerous programs and medications to help you quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about which program is best for you. Make this the year you quit for good.
Low-fat foods. A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats raises cholesterol levels, which leads to heart disease. Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy, and some plant oils. Trans fats live in processed foods such as margarine, cookies, and crackers. Your cardiovascular system craves a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
An active lifestyle. Regular exercise benefits your heart and your overall well-being. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. This can include waling, climbing stairs, dancing, swimming, or riding a bike. As you become comfortable with moderate exercise, add brisk exercise for up to 60 minutes several times a week. Talk to your doctor before you begin an exercise program.
Controlled health issues. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, get it under control. Follow your doctor's instructions, take your medications, and monitor your numbers. Uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can permanently damage the heart. You only get one body in life, so take care of it.
Talk to your primary care physician about living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Your cardiovascular system will thank you for it.
About the Author:
Robert Jones, M.D., FACS, is a cardiothoracic surgeon at ACI -- Surgical Associates. He can be reached at 912-350-2299.