There are definite health benefits to getting up off the couch and getting active. Not only does regular physical exercise help to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, but it also helps to combat high blood pressure and diabetes (the non-insulin-dependent type). Doing an activity that will get your heart beating faster is a great way to relieve stress and it can help to alleviate the symptoms of depression.
Exercising regularly helps to strengthen the heart muscle and makes it more efficient at pumping blood through the body. It also helps by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol levels (good cholesterol) and lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, in the body.
To get these health benefits, the recommended level of exercise is 20-30 minutes, three or more times each week. Stretching and muscle strengthening activities should also be part of an overall fitness plan, and they should be performed a couple of times per week.
People who haven’t been active for some time may want to start off slowly. Walking or swimming are good choices for former couch potatoes, since they can be done at the participant’s own pace to minimize the chance of injury. As the individual’s level of fitness improves, he or she can increase the intensity of the workout.
Other benefits of exercise include the following:
- It reduces the risk of premature death, including dying from heart disease.
- Getting active helps to bring blood pressure down to a more normal level.
- Exercise helps with weight control.
- It helps the participant to build lean muscle and burn fat.
- Physical activity helps seniors to increase their body strength and helps them retain their mobility function without falling.
A person who wants to increase their level of physical activity should start off slowly to avoid injury. Simple things, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and finding a parking space further away from the destination can help to keep to improve heart health.
Having a pet has definite advantages when it comes to your health. They provide companionship and give their owners a reason to smile. The unconditional love and acceptance that animals provide is something that can’t be duplicated.
The results of a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) point to pet ownership as being good for the owner’s heart. The Institute looked at 400 people who had experienced a heart attack. The people who owned dogs were less likely to die as a result of the event than those who didn’t own one.
A second study looked at whether people who own dogs exercise more than than people who don’t own pets. The results indicated that dog owners got more exercise and were less likely to be obese.
The third study that the NIH surveyed 200 married couples. It found that pet owners generally had lower blood pressure and heart rates. They also found it easier to deal with stressful situations that came up in their lives.
Not only does pet ownership lower the risk of heart disease, but it helps to beat stress and reduces the likelihood of getting headaches. Pet owners are also less likely to become depressed.
Before You Adopt a Pet
Owning a pet brings with it a big responsibility. Although there are definite benefits to owning an animal, the decision to bring an animal into your home should be made for the right reasons. They require regular care for life, including feeding/watering, grooming and exercise.
Pets also need the company of their humans and if your lifestyle is not conducive to spending time with the pet regularly, it may not be the right choice for you. You can still interact with animals and do some good by volunteering at the local animal shelter. That way, you are getting the benefits that come with interacting with an animal without having to commit to full-time ownership.
Could something as simple as taking a vitamin lower or even eliminate your risk of heart disease? The results of two research studies indicate that the answer is “Yes.”
In the first study, researchers followed 9,400 patients for a year. The participants had low Vitamin D levels at the beginning of the 12-month period. By the end of the study, 47 percent of the group who had increased their Vitamin D levels had also lowered their risk of heart disease.
The second study was much larger in scale, with 31,000 patients participating. They were divided into three groups for tracking purposes. In each of the groups, the patients who increased their levels of Vitamin D to 43 nanograms/mL of blood had lower rates for the following health conditions:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
A “normal” level of Vitamin D in the blood was considered 30 nanograms/mL. Now, researchers have discovered that this level is too low. Heidi May, Ph.D., a cardiovascular clinical epidemiologist at Murray, Utah’s Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, the study’s author, stated, “Giving physicians a higher level to look for gives them one more tool in identifying patients at-risk and offering them better treatment.”
A person who is concerned about his or her Vitamin D levels can see their doctor for a blood test to measure the current level. If the results show the levels are low, Vitamin D supplements can be taken. Since Vitamin D is also known as the “Sunshine Vitamin,” increasing time spent out of doors can give the levels a boost. Sunscreen should always be worn before going outside, especially during times when the sun’s rays are at their most intense. This is between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is positioned directly overhead in the sky.
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, you will need to make some lifestyle changes to get and stay healthy. Doing so needs a two-pronged approach. Not only do you need to take steps to get your blood pressure lowered, but you also need to address your cholesterol issues.
Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
A normal blood pressure reading has a systolic reading of 120 or less. (The systolic number is the top one.) If that number is 140 or higher, then the person has high blood pressure. If the reading is between 120 and 140, then it is called “prehypertension” and is something that needs to be monitored by a doctor.
Cholesterol and Heart Disease
After a diagnosis of heart disease, you need to take steps to get your LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol down to more healthy levels. Ideally, you will want to get it below 70 mg/dL. This can be done by taking medication.
Another way to lower your cholesterol to a healthier level is to change your diet.
You will need to watch your intake of saturated fat by choosing low-fat versions of dairy products. If you are used to drinking whole milk, you may not like immediately switching to skim milk. Try switching to a lower-fat version first. Start buying lean cuts of meat and trim off visible fat prior to cooking. You will also need to lower your consumption of trans fats, which are found in many processed foods, as well as margarine.
To slow down the development of plaque on the walls of your arteries, you need to follow your doctor’s instructions to deal with your cholesterol and blood pressure. You may need to take medication, change your diet, or make other lifestyle changes to get healthy. If you focus only on one aspect and neglect the other, your chances of long-term health improvement are lower than if you adopt the tag-team approach.
When you go to the doctor and your blood pressure is taken, the reading is expressed in the form of two numbers. The purpose of the test is to measure the amount of force produced when your heart pumps blood against the walls of your arteries. This force will be at its highest when your heart is beating. When your heart relaxes, the amount of force will be lower.
The numbers the doctor or nurse writes down are made up of a combination of these two measurements. The higher number will be on top.
Normal Blood Pressure Reading
If your blood pressure reading is 120/80 or lower, then your blood pressure is normal. If your blood pressure reading is lower than 90/60, this is a symptom that needs to be investigated.
High Blood Pressure
A high blood pressure reading is 140/90 or higher. If you have a blood pressure reading that is between 120/80 and 139/89, you have prehypertension. This means that your condition isn’t serious enough (yet) to be called high blood pressure, but you are at risk of developing full-blown high blood pressure in the future.
Tips for Lowering Your Blood Pressure
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, there are a few things you can do that may help to bring the numbers down to a safer level:
- Quit smoking
- Start exercising on a regular basis
- Drink alcohol only in moderation (limit your intake to one drink per day or less)
- Find ways to cope with stress, such as listening to music or engaging in a hobby you enjoy
- Eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, lean cuts of meat, whole grains, and dairy products (low-fat versions).