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Key factors affecting heart health

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The heart never takes a break. It is the ultimate survivor. Even if you are physically drained and exhausted, your heart keeps pumping at about 4,800 beats per hour. But it is not invincible.

Taking care of your heart should not be taken lightly. Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death in Canada and globally, according to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease study. While there are multiple causes of heart diseases, health conditions such as diabetes and obesity play an important role.

Diabetes increases heart disease risk
Adults with diabetes are four times more likely to die of heart disease or stroke compared to those without diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. The alarming statistics indicate that diabetes and cardiovascular diseases have a direct connection. Cardiovascular diseases refer to conditions that involve narrowed or constricted blood vessels, which can lead to chest pain, heart attack, or stroke.

Diabetic patients also tend to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar, which are all potential heart risk factors. The high blood glucose damages the arteries that lead to the heart by forming plaque or fatty deposits. This process, called atherosclerosis, can eventually block the blood flow to the heart or the brain.

The link between obesity and heart disease
Today, obesity is growing out of control and has become a serious health concern around the world. According to recent studies, the obesity levels

in Canada continue to rise, with over 40% of Canadians reported being overweight or obese (those with a Body Mass Index of 30 or higher are considered obese). Obesity increases the risk for both heart disease and diabetes. It is linked to several factors that increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure or hypertension. Over time, uncontrolled hypertension can weaken heart muscles and make arteries susceptible to atherosclerosis.

The vitamin K2 connection

From a young age, many Canadians start taking vitamin D supplements. Consuming vitamin D supplements alone can sometimes lead to high levels of calcium in the blood. This can lead to arterial calcification, a risk factor for heart attacks. This is where vitamin K2 comes to the rescue. Vitamin K2, which is found naturally in grass-fed meat products, including the eggs of grass-fed chickens, can prevent heart disease and stroke by taking the calcium out of the arteries and distributing it to where it truly belongs—back to the bones and teeth. Hence, those with a high calcium intake including those tak- ing vitamin D supplements should also consider vitamin K2.

Preventing heart disease

Fortunately, there are many lifestyle changes you can take to prevent heart disease.

1. Maintain a healthy exercise routine
Research has shown that exercise can significantly reduce heart disease risk. Exercising strengthens your heart muscles and makes them more efficient. Regular physical exercise also lowers blood pressure and regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

2. Trash those cigarettes
Smoking can have deadly effects on your heart. Inhaling second-hand smoke can also have similar effects, so it is best to distance yourself away from active smokers. The nicotine in cigarettes can raise blood pressure, speed up your heart rate and can reduce the amount of oxygen your heart receives.

3. Manage stress
Stress management can be a lifesaver when it comes to heart health. The more the stress, the higher the blood pressure. Stress can also trigger bad habits such as overeating, drinking and smoking, which are all dangerous for the heart.

4. Cut back on salt and sugar
Cut back on the salt, as it is known to increase blood pressure. Remember: most of the salt you consume comes from packaged foods or restaurant meals. Sugar, which is added to many processed foods including fruit juices, can be equally harmful. Read the label before you buy.

5. Sleep
Sleep is one of the best weapons to fight cardiovascular diseases, but we often compromise on it. The work of the heart is decreased when you sleep, so getting good quality sleep is key to maintaining a healthy heart.

Side Note: If you are taking heart medications, you should not consume black liquorice as it can interact with the medication. Eating excessive black liquorice over regular intervals can increase blood pressure and cause irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

More Insight: Need to get more fit? Check out this helpful article on finding creativity for fitness.

Author: Sonia Jhas is an award-winning health and fitness expert. She is a certified personal trainer, nutrition specialist, speaker and media expert, and is also an ambassador for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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