In February of 2017, while volunteering for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, I was asked to create and present a presentation on the importance of heart health to various retirement residences and businesses in Simcoe County. Every week I would drive to 2 or 3 homes and stand in front of small groups of individuals and explain to them the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease and strokes. I have to say that this was one of the most valuable experiences from my time with the H&SF.
Being someone who was usually surrounded by health conscious people, and individuals who are able to keep up with the latest information on how to stay healthy, it was an eye opening experience to present to the general public. Often times I would go into a retirement residence and those who attended the presentation were half asleep when it began, which was actually a great way to calm my nerves. With every presentation I got more comfortable with the information and really began to enjoy standing in front of an audience and presenting. At the beginning of the presentation I would ask the audience how many of them had been affected by heart disease or stroke - directly or indirectly. At every one, more than half of the attendees put their hands up. Everyone wants to share their stories, so I would give them an opportunity at this point to engage and share with their peers their connection to heart disease and stroke. At one of my presentations, a resident put his hand up and began to speak. It wasn't exactly easy to understand, which makes sense, because what he was saying was that he had had a stroke a few years earlier and it had affected his speech. I may have gotten more comfortable with the content I was presenting, but I was always blown away by the stories people would share.
Connecting with people at the beginning was a great way to get people listening. Once I had people connecting with the issue, then I would get into the real meat and potatoes of the presentation. Initially I had a question period at the end of my speech. At my very first residence I received a few really great questions. The resident's wanted to know if fat was healthy, if salt was bad for their health, and what they could do every day to improve their health. This gave me the idea to include this in the presentation. So for the rest of the month I included a FAQ portion at the end. I spoke about the sugar cover-up that led to the fat-free era and thus the obesity crisis. I explained the difference between butter and margarine and why we should avoid margarine like the plague. I offered my best lay-mans terms version of how the body uses salt for many of it's metabolic processes, but also how they could reduce their sodium while living in a home where food is prepared for them.
Although I felt great to be sharing this information with them, it was heartbreaking at the same time. When I presented the information on how the sugar industry covered up the dangers of sugar by blaming fat, I literally saw every one of them thinking back to that time in their lives. Many of these people were raising their own children during this time and feeding their children according to what they believed was right. To watch them process being cheated by science and a multi-billion dollar industry was incredible and slightly devastating all at once. Many of these people had lost friends and family members to heart disease or stroke, which they were then realizing could have potentially been prevented if it hadn't been for the cover up.
Which brings me to why I am writing this blog today. Your cardiovascular health, or the health of your heart and blood vessels is crucial. That may seem obvious, but you really need to know that many of the factors that affect your risk of developing cardiovascular complications are lifestyle related.
Tips for a healthy heart
1. Quit Smoking
Smoking is incredibly damaging to the heart and lunges. When you inhale the smoke and everything else that gets burned up in a cigarette, this gets filtered from the lungs into the blood stream. Many of the toxins in smoke are damaging to the blood vessels. This damage results in "ridges" in the blood vessel that end up "catching" sugar molecules, bad cholesterol, and other molecules that flood through the blood vessels. As more and more of these things catch onto these ridges, you can end up with a partial or total blockage. These blockages eventually cut off the circulation at that point and can be life threatening.
2. Reduce your intake of foods that promote the production of LDL, or bad cholesterol.
Did you know that there are 2 types of cholesterol? HDL or the Happy cholesterol, and LDL, the bad cholesterol are the two cholesterol forms that we are concerned with when talking about the heart. As I mentioned, LDL is one of the components of blood that can get stuck on the ridges in the blood vessels. Too much of this floating around and you massively increase your chances of developing blockages. Exercise, healthy diet choices, and maintaining low stress levels increases your HDL concentration in the body and this is how we "clean up" the LDL in the body.
3. Reduce your stress
Stress is interpreted in the body as a time to increase cortisol levels in the blood. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and if truly stressful situations, like running away from a bear, is really useful. It signals a cascade of reactions and changes in blood flow to better serve the survival instinct. Unfortunately this primal process has not adapted to the busy lives we live today. Tests, work deadlines, first dates, and the recent increase in social anxiety disorders, has meant that our bodies are constantly pumping out cortisol to try and help us get through these stressful situations. Our bodies really do only have the best of intentions, unfortunately, these changes in blood flow can take a toll on the health of the blood vessels. Stress also creates the ridges in the blood vessels.
Now before you think you are doomed, don't stress. These things are very minute, and their accumulation can take a lifetime before they get to a dangerous point. With that said, why not learn some stress management techniques now so you can prolong the health of your blood vessels.
4. Exercise regularly & eat well
It is no surprise that exercise has positive effects on the heart. This is why there is an entire area of exercise devoted to cardio-health. Training the heart through HIIT workouts, and long distance events gives the heart to adapt to healthy stress. Exercise makes the heart more efficient at getting blood and oxygen to the working tissues, and bringing de-oxygenated blood back to eliminate the metabolic byproducts. How's that for a natural cleanse? It helps to reduce your resting blood pressure, and is an excellent way to keep high stress levels at bay.
Proper nutrition for heart health could be it's own post. There are so many factors that play into feeding the body well for a happy and healthy heart. The quick summary is to ensure you are eating healthy fats - ie. the ones that occur naturally in plants and animals - not the kind that are manufactured *cough cough* margarine *cough cough*. Yes this includes the trans fats, and saturated and unsaturated fats. The whole lot of them! Just as long as they come from natural sources, and you keep the trans fats to a minimum. Not only do fats provide you with way more energy than carbs or protein - 9 kcals per gram to be exact - but they are also crucial for supporting a number of metabolic processes in the body, including the production of hormones and the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K.
make your heart sing
This has been a bit of a longer post, but I hope it reflects not only my passion for the topic but the importance of the issue. I say do something good for your body every day and it is actually something I started saying while doing the heart health presentations last year. It just takes a few conscious decisions every day to reduce your risk of developing health complications. You don't have to have a massive workout, or eat perfectly, they just have to be choices that will put you in a better place to live a long, happy, and healthy life.
Do something good for your body today
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's most recent research, her travel adventures, and her personal fitness journey.