Taking care of your heart

By August 7, 2008 December 8th, 2011 No Comments

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the biggest killer in the UK, so it’s important to take care of your heart. TV and the media lead us to believe that having a heart attack is deadly but medical advances mean that having heart disease is no longer a death sentence and there are lots of things that you can do to reduce your risk. In CHD, the arteries that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients become narrowed by atherosclerosis. This restricts the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart, particularly during exertion when there are more demands on the heart muscle.

The main symptom is angina, caused by insufficient oxygen reaching the heart muscle because of reduced blood flow. Angina is a feeling of heaviness, tightness or pain in the middle of your chest that may extend to, or just affect, your arms (especially the left), neck, jaw, face, back or abdomen. It’s most often experienced during exertion – if you run for a bus, for example, or climb stairs. It may occur in cold weather, after a heavy meal, or when you’re feeling stressed. It can subside once you stop what you’re doing and rest, or take medication.

Unfortunately, for many people the first indication that something’s wrong is a heart attack. This happens when the blood supply to a part of the heart muscle is completely interrupted or stops, usually when a blood clot forms in a diseased coronary artery that’s already become narrowed by atherosclerosis. The pain of a heart attack is often severe, and is frequently described as a central, crushing type of pain – like a tight band around the chest. Unlike angina, the pain doesn’t subside when you rest. Sometimes it can be mild, and is mistaken for indigestion. Some people have a heart attack without experiencing pain. Other heart attack symptoms include sweating, light-headedness, nausea or breathlessness which, again, aren’t alleviated by rest. If you suspect you, or someone else, is having a heart attack, seek medical help immediately by calling 999. Modern treatments can restore the blood supply to the heart muscle. The sooner treatment is given, the less permanent damage there will be.

The most common cause of a heart attack is atherosclerosis. This is a build up of fatty materials within the walls of the arteries throughout the body, most importantly in the arteries to the tissues of the heart – the coronary arteries. During this process, the inner lining of the arteries becomes furred with a thick, porridge-like sludge (atheroma), consisting of fatty deposits of cholesterol, cell waste and other substances. These form raised patches on the artery wall – known as ‘plaques’ – that narrow the arteries, reducing the space through which blood can flow. At the same time, the blood becomes more prone to clotting. A heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries blocks completely. When the supply of oxygen and nutrients is completely blocked, the heart muscle and tissue supplied by that artery dies.

Reducing the risk of a heart attack

Becoming more active and improving your diet can make a tremendous difference to your heart. Taking more exercise helps reduce blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels and boosts metabolism – all of which can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. Being active is absolutely essential for a healthy heart for the simple reason that your heart is a muscle. Even if you haven’t been active for some time, your heart can become stronger, so that it is able to pump more efficiently giving you more stamina and greater energy.

Becoming more active will also improve the ability of your body’s tissues to extract oxygen from your blood, help you maintain healthy levels of blood fats and speed your metabolism.

Three types of exercise are needed in order to become fitter and healthier. These are aerobic, resistance training and flexibility. All three are vital for all-round fitness. Particularly important to prevent coronary heart disease is aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. This is any kind of activity that increases your breathing rate and gets you breathing more deeply. With one of our personal trainers these activities can include walking, running, step aerobics, boxercise, shuttle runs, body pump or circuit training. These are designed to increase the strength of your heart muscle by improving your body’s ability to extract oxygen from the blood and transport it to the rest of the body. Aerobic exercise also enhances your body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently and to burn (or metabolise) fats and carbohydrates for energy. So you will also get thinner!!

Strength exercise (or resistance training) helps to make your muscles stronger, strengthens your bones and protects your joints from the risk of injury (because muscles protect the joints). This type of exercise may involve the use of free weights and body weight exercises. With home personal training we are not tied in to restrictive gym machines and so can focus on functional resistance training with core muscle activation. Exercises such as press-ups, lunges and squats, and some of the exercises involved in yoga which use your body weight, are all good for resistance. Resistance training does not increase heart strength on it’s own, but as part of a circuit or body pump style workout it can increase the fitness of your heart like aerobic exercise – this is called Peripheral Heart Action training (PHA). It also helps regulate appetite, strengthens the immune system and increases your metabolic rate, vital if you want to lose weight and eat reasonably well.

Stretching for flexibility helps relax and lengthen your muscles, encourages improved blood flow, and helps keep you supple so you can move more easily. Experts say it’s good to stretch for 5-10 minutes every day. There are a number of simple stretches which you’ll find in virtually any book about exercise or can be taught by your personal trainer.

At Diets Don’t Work all our personal training sessions include fun (wherever possible), effective and challenging Cardiovascular exercise, resistance (strength) training and flexibility. Many people come to us for weight loss (and often the motivation is mirror/self image based) but as we make them thinner and fitter the huge silver lining is a greatly reduced risk of CHD. We also include nutritional help and advice with all block bookings of 6 or more personal training sessions which also plays a big part in your heart health. With a personal trainer you also get carefully screened before exercise, and we are also qualified to train those with high blood pressure, thus taking the risk of having a go yourself unsupervised. You don’t have to have loads of personal trainer sessions, even training just 2 times a week will keep your heart healthy  -so if you live in London, Windsor, Ascot or Maidenhead and want to be healthy, give us a go!

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