Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for a range of conditions, including:
- Narrowing of blood vessels in your heart, but also blood vessels in other organs and throughout your body;
- Heart and blood vessel problems which are present at birth;
- Heart valves that are not functioning as they should be;
- Irregular heart rhythms.
In our podcast with Professor Alison Heather, (Episode 28) we discuss the fact that everyone has a certain level of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in our arteries) from as young as when we were teenagers, but risk factors for this being problematic increase with:
- High blood pressure (hypertension);
- High cholesterol (hyperlipidemia);
- Tobacco use (including vaping);
- Type 2 diabetes;
- Family history of heart disease;
- Lack of physical activity;
- Excess weight and/or obesity;
- A diet high in sodium, sugar and fat;
- Overuse of alcohol;
- Misuse of prescription or recreational drugs;
- Gestational diabetes;
- Pre-eclampsia or toxaemia;
- Chronic inflammatory or autoimmune conditions;
- Chronic kidney disease (sourced from Cleveland).
Of course, we have modern pharmaceutical and surgical tools at our disposal to help manage cardiovascular disease when it happens and these tools are fantastic but they should never be seen used in isolation to making lifestyle changes where needed.
It’s always a good time, no matter your health, to make an honest stock take of your lifestyle – we suggest doing the following:
1. Assess your diet and your weight. Eating heart healthy foods and fueling your body with vegetables fruits, quality protein and minimising highly processed foods and sugar (simple carbohydrates) is a great way to improve cardiovascular health. This podcast episode by Dr Rangan Chattergee, where is speaks with Dr Aseem Malholtra is a motivating listen and will show you what dietary lifestyle changes can do for you (listen here).
2. Exercise – regular aerobic exercise is important – there is much advice out there on this front, and what comes to the fore is low intensity exercise is important every day, this might be walking, gardening, housework, yoga etc for at least 30 minutes and 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise getting your heart rate pumping at 70-85% of its maximum rate is also important (see our blog for assessing where your heart rate should be for your age).
3. Stop smoking – we know smokers hear this often and we understand how tough it is – have a read of our blog where we elaborate on these tips for giving up smoking (read here). Find your reason why; Prepare; Replace your habits; Celebrate even the small milestones; Imagine your healthy bunker cells starting to regenerate.
4. Limit alcohol. I think alcohol is the elephant in the room, especially as the silly season approaches. There are no health benefits of alcohol, if you want to gain the health benefits of resveratrol (present in red wine) then blueberries, blackcurrants and grapes are a better answer!
I think we have also kidded ourselves about the relaxing effects of alcohol, yes it feels great crashing on the couch with a glass of wine, but it feels equally great going for a walk or reading a book, or doing some deep breathing and stretching – maybe we need to rethink what relaxation looks like.
Alcohol is a great social lubricant and we are not against the occasional glass, but we need to be honest with ourselves about when we are tipping into unhealthy territory. It’s worth noting, there are some lovely low sugar alternatives on the market and its also amazing what you can do yourself at home with lemons, mint leaves and all manner of herbal concoctions!
5. Sleep – how much are you getting? It’s interesting how much gadgets are creeping into our sleep time. If you are someone who sleeps easily, but are not getting your 7-9 hours a night, then, try making your bedtime routine start half an hour earlier and then an hour earlier and see how you feel. If you are like me and sleep can be elusive – monitoring all the lifestyle factors, diet, alcohol, stress and exercise can make a big impact on how you sleep. We have written about this in a previous blog https://www.zesttwellness.com/blogs/wellness-for-the-rest-of-us/sleep-where-for-art-thou
6. Know your numbers – according to the John Hopkins Medical Centre the 5 numbers you should know and regularly monitor are:
- How many steps you take per day (work towards 10,000 steps per day).
- Your blood pressure – a measurement of 120/80 is optimal and 140/90 is normal for most people. It is important to monitor regularly to assess any changes. High blood pressure readings can mean that arteries are not responding appropriately to the force of blood pushing against the artery walls (blood pressure), raising the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
- Your non-HDL cholesterol, which is your total cholesterol reading, minus your HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol- a measure of fats in the blood. You should aim for a score lower than 130mf/dL, or if you are at a high risk of heart disease, lower than 70-100mg/dL.
- Your blood sugar – high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes – note, this can be an issue well before a person us diagnosed with diabetes. Please listen to our podcast, Episode 25, with Dr Paul Kolodzik where we focus on this area (listen here)
- How many hours sleep you get. As discussed above – poor sleep can be a contributor to many health issues and unfortunately, it can be a vicious circle with poor sleep meaning we don’t want to exercise or eat well.
Finally, it would be easy to say leave your health check until after Christmas and New Years has passed – but we need to recognise, that these are often times of high stress - perhaps you will actually enjoy the festive season more if you start making small changes now.
I encourage you to make an honest assessment of where you are at and perhaps chat with a loved one who will give you caring and honest feedback. It can be hard to listen to, I understand, but small changes lead to bigger changes.
If you start now, you might find yourself roaring into the new year with a fantastic mindset and a healthier cardiovascular system.
If you would like to discuss any of this further, please contact Darcy or Anna (who you can contact at 027 599 2255 or 027 4861418 respectively) or via firstname.lastname@example.org.