Tag Archives: blood pressure

The Most Important Muscle

February is heart health month and why not. After all, February contains Valentine’s Day. In reality though, every month should be heart health month. Your heart is the most important muscle you have. Forget about the pecs and biceps. Without the heart working properly, you’re not doing anything. Heart disease doesn’t happen just to older adults either. It is happening to younger adults more and more often. This is partly because the conditions that lead to heart disease are happening at younger ages. High rates of obesity and high blood pressure among younger people (ages 35-64) are putting them at risk for heart disease earlier in life. Half of all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking).

You Could Be at Risk

High Blood Pressure. Millions of Americans of all ages have high blood pressure, including millions of people in their 40s and 50s. About half of people with high blood pressure don’t have it under control. Having uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the biggest risks for heart disease and other harmful conditions, such as stroke.

High Blood Cholesterol. High cholesterol can increase the risk for heart disease. Having diabetes and obesity, smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and not getting enough physical activity can all contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels. While there’s some serious debate on this particular subject, it is still listed as one of the top precursors to heart disease.

Smoking. More than 37 million U.S. adults are current smokers, and thousands of young people start smoking each day. Smoking damages the blood vessels and can cause heart disease.

Other conditions and behaviors that affect your risk for heart disease include:

Obesity. Carrying extra weight puts stress on the heart. More than 1 in 3 Americans—and nearly 1 in 6 children ages 2 to 19—has obesity.

Diabetes. Diabetes causes sugar to build up in the blood. This can damage blood vessels and nerves that help control the heart muscle. Nearly 1 in 10 people in the United States has diabetes.

Physical Inactivity. Staying physically active helps keep the heart and blood vessels healthy. Only 1 in 5 adults meets the physical activity guidelines of getting 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity.

Unhealthy Eating Patterns. Most Americans, including children, eat too much sodium (salt), which increases blood pressure. Replacing foods high in sodium with fresh fruits and vegetables can help lower blood pressure. But only 1 in 10 adults is getting enough fruits and vegetables each day. Diet high in trans-fat, saturated fat, and added sugar increases the risk factor for heart disease.

4 Ways to Take Control of Your Heart Health

Thing is, you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to your heart. It’s one of the top ailments that can be treated, cured, even reversed by making small, simple changes to your lifestyle.

Don’t Smoke. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn how to quit.

Manage Conditions. Work with your health care team to manage conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. For some, this includes taking any medicines you have been prescribed. The really good news is that dependency on medications can be decreased or eliminated through adherence to a physical program.

Make Heart-Healthy Eating Changes. Eat food low in trans-fat, added sugar and sodium. Try to fill at least half your plate with vegetables and fruits, and aim for low sodium options.Forget all this jargon about carbs and popularized diets.

Stay Active. Get moving for at least 150 minutes per week. There’s simply no excuse for finding and making the time to be active.And that means physical activity above and beyond what you do on a normal basis.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

12 Days of Fitness 2015: Day 8 – What Happens When You Skip Your Workout

(This is Part 8 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful blurbs and tips to keep your fitness in focus over the holiday season)

A young man sleeps on a couch, with a TV remote control firmly gripped in his hands.
A young man sleeps on a couch, with a TV remote control firmly gripped in his hands.

Back in one of my first semesters of college I had taken an elective entry level economics class. Not super exciting stuff except that the professor got the class’s attention the very first day by breaking down our tuition costs: what it costs per month, per week, per day; what it costs for room and board; what it cost per class per week per day, ultimately showing us what it costs to skip class. While I don’t recall that figure I can tell you that I didn’t skip many classes in any class after that. What if someone were to do the same lesson with the cost of skipping a workout? We can all come up with a million and one excuses but might we be less inclined to skip a workout if we knew some of the obvious and not so obvious costs to skipping an opportunity for some physical movement. I’ll let you decide as it’s always your choice.

  1. Added Girth. Unfortunately the item most people solely focus on when it comes to exercise is how it affects their appearance. Within just a week’s time, your muscles will lose some of their fat burning potential and your metabolism slows. Add to that the fluid retention that happens as a result of being physically dormant and pounds will slowly creep up.
  1. Get Winded Fast. With 2 weeks of avoiding the gym, your VO2 max—a measure of fitness that assesses how much oxygen your working muscles can use—decreases by as much as 20%! One reason why this happens is that you lose mitochondria which are found in your muscle cells and convert oxygen into energy. In fact, a British study found that 2 weeks of immobilization decreased muscle mitochondrial content as much as 6 weeks of endurance training increased it. Not good odds.
  1. Blood Pressure Rises. This effect is almost instant. Your blood pressure is higher on the days you don’t workout than on the days you do. After two weeks, your blood vessels adapt to the slower flow of a sedentary life style thus increasing your readings by a couple of notches. Within a month, your arteries and veins will stiffen sending your blood pressure back to where it would be if you had never started working out in the first place. For anyone who has high blood pressure or a family history of it, exercise is and should be mandatory. You’re dealing with a physiological response that is best handled with physical activity. Period.
  1. Blood Sugar Rises. Usually your blood sugar rises after you eat but goes back down as your muscles and other tissues use up the sugar they need for energy. But after 5 days of kicking back on the sofa, your post meal sugar levels remain elevated. If you stay sedentary, your sugar levels will continue their upward creep and put you at greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. Again, yet another physiologic response that is best handled with physical activity.
  1. Muscles Atrophy. Strength lasts longer than endurance but depending on how inactive you have been, your muscles start to shrink nearly right away. Studies have found that after 2 weeks of complete rest, muscle mass declines significantly. With decreased muscle mass also comes decreased calorie burning potential.
  1. The Brain Weakens. A study found that after just 2 weeks of inactivity, regular exercisers became tired and grumpy. Although evidence for humans is limited, findings found that rats that stopped moving for a week grew fewer brains cells and did worse on maze tests than those who had a wheel spinning workout.

If the drug commercials on TV aren’t enough to scare you, I’d rather take my chances on doing what I can control through regular physical activity than depend on something in a bottle that may or may not be a solution.

See you tomorrow for Day 9 of the 12 Days of Fitness


Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Day 1 – Chew Your Food
Day 2 – Fitness for the Road
Day 3 – The Many Names of Sugar
Day 4 – Side Stitches: Causes and Treatments
Day 5 – The 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Feel Hungry When Trying to Lose Weight
Day 6 – 10 Rules of Fitness
Day 7 – Which Are You – A Chronic Dieter or A Healthy Eater?

Can You Please Pass The Salt? 2013 – 12 Days of Fitness: Day 10

(This is Part 10 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

iStock_000000597146XSmallIt seems almost every day you’re being told what to eat, what not eat, what to eat in moderation, etc. The truth of the matter is, as we learn more and more of how the body works and more importantly what we’re feeding it with, our knowledge and appreciation of nutrition continually evolves. For example, let’s take a look at sodium. What is it? What does it do? Why do we need it? Why does it get such a bad rap? How much do I need?

What Is It and What Does It Do?

Sodium is an essential mineral and one of the key electrolytes in our bodies. It is the yin to potassium’s yang, or to put it mildly, without it you wouldn’t exist. Your body needs some sodium to function properly because it:

  • Regulates blood volume and blood pressure
  • Helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body
  • Is vital to the  transmission of  nerve impulses
  • Influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles

Why Does It Get Such a Bad Rap?

The average American gets about 3,400 mg of sodium a day — much more than recommended. The minimal physiologic requirement of sodium is only 500 mg/day. The kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in your body.  When body sodium is low, the kidneys essentially hold on to the sodium. When body sodium is high, the kidneys excrete the excess through urine and sweat. But if for some reason the kidneys can’t eliminate enough sodium, the sodium starts to build up in the blood. Since sodium attracts and holds water, the blood volume increases, which makes the heart work harder and increases blood pressure. Some people have a higher sensitivity to sodium than others, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure all of which can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and congestive heart failure.

How Much Do You Need and What Can I Do To Be Careful?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day. Keep in mind that these are upper limits, and less is usually best, especially if you’re sensitive to the effects of sodium. So what steps can you take to be mindful of your sodium consumption? Here’s a ten point checklist:

1)    Find out how much salt you’re getting by writing everything you eat and its sodium contents

2)    Read food labels to check their sodium levels

3)    Compare products in the same category for their comparative salt content, and opt for the low or no salt versions

4)    Consume more potassium, which blunts salt’s unhealthy effects

5)    Don’t add extra salt from the shaker to foods

6)    Flavor your food with salt substitutes such as lemon juice, black pepper, dried basil, chilies, cumin, turmeric and other beneficial spices

7)    Eat as many whole fresh foods as possible

8)    Limit your consumption of fast foods.

9)    When you dine out, request that your dish be prepared without salt

10) Cook with whole, not processed foods

The taste for salt is acquired, so you can learn to enjoy less. Decrease your use of salt gradually and your taste buds will adjust. After a few weeks of cutting back on salt, you probably won’t miss it, and some foods may even taste too salty. Start by using no more than 1/4 teaspoon of salt daily — at the table and in cooking. Then throw away the salt shaker. As you use less salt, your preference for it diminishes, allowing you to enjoy the taste of the food itself, with heart-healthy benefits.

See you tomorrow for Day 11 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.


Blood Pressure: The Silent Killer 2013 – 12 Days of Fitness: Day 5

(This is Part 5 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

High-Blood-PressureThink for a moment about the pipes in your home right now. If you have running water, there is a pressure that keeps water moving through the pipes. Same thing if your house is heated by hot water; there is pressure in the lines to keep hot water moving throughout the house to keep it warm. If there’s not enough pressure, the running water trickles and there’s little to no heat and if there’s too much pressure there could be a pipe or valve that bursts leaving you with no water and no heat. Our bodies work almost identically to the example here with pipes and water, only the pipes are the blood vessels and the water is our life force, blood.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls (systole) and the subsequent recoil of the vessel walls pushing the blood continually along (diastole). Without enough pressure, it is difficult to get blood to and from the heart efficiently, often resulting in lightheadedness and dizziness. Too much pressure and there is stress on the body that is almost undetectable and felt without the use of a blood pressure reading. High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body and contributes to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), rupturing of the vessels, and to the potential development of heart failure.

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure can vary greatly from measurement to measurement and situation to situation. (i.e. the white coat syndrome). An individual will be diagnosed as hypertensive when blood pressure is elevated for an extended period of time. Often there are no warning signs and 65 million American adults or about 1 in 3 people have high blood pressure.

What Is “Normal” Blood Pressure?

A blood pressure reading has a top number (the systolic) and bottom number (the diastolic). The ranges are:

  • Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
  • Prehypertension: 120-139 over 80-89
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159 over 90-99
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above over 100 and above

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but several factors and conditions may play a role in its development, including:

  • Smoking – preventable
  • Being overweight or obese – preventable
  • Lack of physical activity – preventable
  • Too much salt in the diet – preventable
  • Too much alcohol consumption (more than 1 to 2 drinks per day) – preventable
  • Stress – preventable
  • Older age
  • Genetics
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Adrenal and thyroid disorders

Blood pressure is of vital importance to our health, well-being and existence. Even though it’s something most of us probably take for granted, it’s one of the few health markers where we have a good opportunity of controlling what we can control. Simply just letting it go or waiting until a medication is prescribed is like taking a walk on a short plank. Sooner or later, you’re going to fall. Get it checked periodically and take charge of your plumbing.

See you tomorrow for Day 6 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.



Recession Proof Your Health

recession-proofDoes your head hurt as the bills pile up? Is your heart racing as your investments and job opportunities head south? In these tough economic times, financial stress can hurt not only your wallet but also your body and your mind. According to a recent poll from the Associated Press, the recession and consequential debt may be harming the health of up to 16 million Americans. Although a recession does not kill tens of thousands of people in a single catastrophic event, it harms health in the long run. The consequences of dealing with financial uncertainties can be devastating. Bankruptcies, foreclosures and other economic woes are boosting a higher than normal demand for mental-health services. Money woes can trigger insomnia, anxiety and depression, rob you of time to get exercise and cook healthy foods, and make it harder to afford regular medical care. Aside from turning off the TV and ignoring the press, it’s time to fight back and protect your greatest asset–your health.  So what can you do to protect your health during the recession? Plenty. And you can do it with just a little extra effort — and very little money.

Bail Out Your Stress Reaction

A certain amount of stress in life is normal and healthy. But many people have too much or handle it poorly, and that can make us sick. It can lead to alcohol and substance abuse, headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also raise the risk of obesity, diabetes, infections, back pain, irritable bowel syndrome and many other conditions. The wild stock market ride, rising foreclosure rates, and increasing layoffs may give you a queasy feeling in your stomach, but it’s your heart that is really at increased risk during a recession, cardiologists say. “We may not think of chemicals when it comes to matters of the heart, but much of the way the heart responds to stress comes down to body chemistry”, explains Cam Patterson, MD, chief of the division of cardiology at the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill. And several different chemical molecules can harm us as a result of stress. Our bodies react to stress by producing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Especially for those already at risk for heart disease, the results of an outpouring of stress hormones can be deadly — or at least risky. They can build up over time, with effects that lead to damage of arterial walls and weakening plaque that may already be in a vessel. “They make the plaques more likely to explode,” Patterson says.  “Stress, anxiety, and depression all affect heart health,” says Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, section head of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. One major effect is accelerated atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate are also side effects of stress.

To keep financial stress from making you sick, the American Psychological Association (APA) advises you to:

  1. Pause and not to panic. Stay aware of current events without succumbing to media hysteria. Avoid the tendency to overreact or to become passive. Remain calm and stay focused.
  2. Identify stressors and make a plan. Review your finances and note which areas are stressing you. List ways you can trim spending and better handle your money. Budget for health care, food, grooming and other expenses. Write up a financial plan and review it regularly. Contact creditors if you’re having difficulty paying bills.
  3. Examine how you handle financial stress. Beware of negative behaviors such as smoking, drinking, gambling or fighting with your spouse. Get help if needed.
  4. View problems as opportunities. Realize that blowing your paycheck at the mall doesn’t bring happiness. Explore ways to simultaneously save money and boost physical and mental health such as walking, biking, cooking and having a family game or story night. Learn how healthy behaviors can save you money. If you’re overweight, for example, losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight may save you thousands of dollars in medicals costs over your lifetime.
  5. Chill out. Learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation. Even sharing your experiences in support groups can help your health during the recession.

Health is Wealth

When the economy is stressed, you need your health more than ever. Resist the urge to react to stress with unhealthy behaviors such as overeating or excess drinking. Look for positive, inexpensive ways to manage stress, such as:

Exercise. I know you’ve heard that exercise is important, but during a recession, your health may depend on it. This is particularly true if you’ve been laid off. The tendency may be to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed — or sit in front of the TV. Don’t. “Get your day started with a brisk walk”, says Winston Gandy, MD, co-director of cardiac ultrasound at Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta. Hazen recommends, “Do jumping jacks, take a milk crate and turn it upside down and step on it — do something.” Repeated studies have shown the benefits of exercise to heart health, with as much as a 15% decrease in mortality rates with relatively minor changes in one’s exercise routine. Running, walking and hiking are fun activities to get your heart pumping, while having fun with your friends. The bonus: it doesn’t cost a dime!

Social support. Family and friends are more important than ever in tough economic times. Researchers have documented that isolation harms our health and social support improves it. Connect with family and friends. Check out support groups or online communities. Join neighborhood organizations.

Sleep  Sleep is not just a time of rest, but of restoration,” says Charles Raison, MD, director of the Mind-Body Clinic in the department of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine. While we are sleeping, our bodies repair a lot of the damage that happens during the day. Although we need eight hours of sleep a night, many Americans live in a sleep-deprived state, and that’s not good for our health during the recession, or any other time. To sleep better, avoid doing stressful things before bedtime, such as paying bills, reading about your diminishing retirement fund, or having a tense conversation with your partner or family. If you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis, discuss this with your doctor.

Nutrition  Eat healthful foods and limit fatty, processed foods. Fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean meats should top your grocery list. Skip desserts and fried foods — and save money, too. If you’ve been laid off, it’s especially important to watch your weight.. “Suddenly people begin to see 5 pounds around their middle, and they don’t know where it came from,” Gandy says. Often, it comes from mindless nibbling and snacking throughout the day. That extra weight, particularly around the middle, can increase a person’s risk of heart disease. Before heading to the store, create lists and reduce your impulse buying with a grocery list, and stick to the list. When you are hungry, don’t shop. Keep your attention on the perimeter of the store where the fresh produce and foods are. Processed and packaged foods are in the middle. Be a smart snacker and avoid junk foods that are low on nutrition and high in calories.

Above all, while the financial news is horrible, focus on the good things going on in your life. Even if you have lost a great deal in your retirement fund, maybe you still have your house. Maybe you still have a job. And with a little extra attention, you can still have your health.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Featured in July 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

No Laughing Matter

little child babyHow many times have you heard that laughter is the best medicine?  Nothing can lighten up a bad day better than a good joke, a favorite TV sitcom, or a comedy movie that puts you in stitches every time you watch it.   Sometimes just surrounding yourself with “everyday comedians” can make a long day seem much shorter.  Speaking of, when was the last time you had a really good laugh at work? That’s right – work!  After all, who can really make it through the day without a little bit of laughter. The water cooler, e-mail, lunch breaks, and happy hour are all great ways to chuckle and unwind. If you, your co-workers, or employees for that matter, are continuously stressed out, those vibes will ultimately filter out to your customers and clients.  That’s certainly not the idea or message you want to send about your business.  So before you start to laugh at such an idea, take a good look at what some of the research has to say.

  • One reported study conducted at Canadian financial institutions, found that managers who facilitated the highest level of employee performance used humor most often.  Something tells me that does not involve telling employees that they’re fired, only to then say, “Gotcha!”
  • William Fry, MD, of Stanford found that laughing 200 times burns off the same amount of calories as 10 minutes on a rowing machine. Laughing will never be a replacement for exercise, but catching a Seinfeld episode will beat 10 minutes on a rowing machine any day.
  • Another study found that after a bout of laughter, blood pressure drops to lower, healthier levels. Exercise, good eating habits, and laughter are easier, cheaper, and safer alternatives to expensive medication for decreasing blood pressure.
  • Laughter also oxygenates the blood, thereby increasing energy levels; relaxes muscles; works out all major internal systems, including the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.  All of the benefits are cardiovascular exercise without the sweat.  Not a bad idea.
  • Lee Berk, PhD, of the Loma Linda School of Public Health in California, found that laughing can make the immune system grow stronger; the body’s T cell, natural killer cells and antibodies all show signs of increased activity.  I always knew that the sick and miserable could benefit from a daily dose of laughter.

As it turns out, laughter truly is the best medicine.  So lighten up and try to use your sense of humor more on the job.  In addition to the many health benefits a few chuckles can foster, you’ll feel happier and your co-workers, customers, and employees will sense the positive energy.  And that is no laughing matter.

Featured in May 2005 Issue of 422 Business Advisor