How to Maintain a Healthy Cardiovascular System

Five Methods:Eating a Heart Healthy-DietMaking Lifestyle ChangesManaging Your Stress LevelsTaking MedicationsUnderstanding Cardiovascular Health

Maintaining good cardiovascular health will help to prevent a whole range of heart problems, such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart attack and heart failure, while also benefiting your overall health. There are many diet and lifestyle changes you can make to keep your heart as healthy as possible.

Method 1
Eating a Heart Healthy-Diet

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    Follow a heart healthy diet to lower your risk of heart problems. The risk of heart problems is significantly lower in patients who eat a heart healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet contains more fiber, vitamins, minerals and less calories and fats, especially saturated fats and trans-fats.
    • Among meats, red meat contain bad fats, so it should be avoided and poultry and fish should be eaten instead. Salt, sugar and artificial sweeteners should also be avoided.
    • The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend heart healthy nutrition for the entire adult population, and suggests the following dietary modifications.[1]
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    Increase your intake of vegetables and fruits. Increase your intake of vegetables and fruits as they are rich in vitamins (especially antioxidant vitamins A,C and E which clear the body’s toxic oxygen metabolites), minerals and fiber, but low in bad fats and calories.
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    Eat poultry and fish instead of red meat. Eat more poultry and fish, especially salmon, trout and herring, as they contain Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids which are good for the strengthening of heart muscles.
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    Include more low-fat dairy products and nuts. These foods contain low levels of bad fats as compared to products containing saturated fats and trans fats, which cause deposition of cholesterol in the blood vessels.
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    Limit foods which cause high cholesterol. It is recommended that you limit your intake of sodium (salt), sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats. For patients who have high levels of LDL-Cholesterol, additional recommendations are:
    • Reduce the percentage of calories consumed from saturated fat to 5-6%.
    • Reduce the percentage of calories consumed from trans fat.
    • Aim for a total cholesterol score of less than 180 mg/dL, as this is considered optimal.
    • Discuss methods of achieving these goals with your nutritionist.
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    Decrease your sodium intake if you suffer from high blood pressure. For patients who are suffering from hypertension, additional recommendations are:
    • Reduce your sodium intake to 1500mg/day, or at least decrease your daily consumption by 1000mg/day, by reducing the consumption of sodium containing salts. Sodium makes the body hold on to water, thus extra water stays in our body.[2]
    • This raises our blood pressure, which increases the risk of atherosclerosis. Therefore, decreased intake of sodium prevents atherosclerosis and thus prevents a reduced oxygen and blood supply to the heart
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    Consult a doctor or nutritionist who can help you plan your diet. Heart-healthy foods should be incorporated into the diet according to personal and cultural preferences; therefore you should consult your doctor/nutritionist about applying these principles in your daily diet.
    • Appropriate calorie requirements are determined according to the weight and lifestyle of the individual. However, remember that these are general guidelines for the normal adult population.
    • For patients requiring special dietary management, such as diabetes, appropriate changes should be made accordingly.

Method 2
Making Lifestyle Changes

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    Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is associated with an increased risk of heart problems. Obesity also causes hypertension and diabetes, which are risk factors for atherosclerosis and ischemic heart disease.[3]
    • Therefore, if you are obese, especially if your BMI is >35, you should take a healthy approach to losing weight, including appropriate changes to your diet and lifestyle.
    • If you are already at a healthy weight, you should make sure that you maintain this weight.To calculate your BMI, see this article.
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    Get regular exercise. Several clinical trials have proved that regular exercise prevents atherosclerosis, therefore preventing ischemia and heart attacks. The general population and people at risk of developing heart attack should engage in:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity (for example, a brisk walk for half an hour daily for 5 days a week), or
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (for example, running for at least 10 minutes daily throughout the week, or 15 minutes daily for 5 days a week), or
    • an equivalent combination of both.
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    Follow an exercise plan for at least three months. Although exercise should be made a lifelong habit, trials have shown that doing the kind of exercise described above for 3 months results in a significant decrease in the risk of developing heart attack.
    • However, it should be emphasized that this is the minimum recommended amount of exercise. Exercising more than this will further decrease the risk of developing heart conditions.
    • Aside from walking and running, you can also engage in activities such as stretching exercises (to increase blood flow), swimming, dancing, cycling and yoga.
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    Prevent anemia. As oxygen is bound to hemoglobin in order to be carried in the blood, decreased levels of hemoglobin also result in a decreased level of oxygen in the blood.
    • Therefore anemia should be prevented by eating foods containing enough iron, vitamin B-12 and folic acid. Rich sources of iron are meat, leafy green vegetables (spinach, collards), beans and dried fruits.
    • Vitamin B-12 is found in fish, liver, crab, cheese and eggs, while folic acid is present in green leafy vegetables.[4]
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    Quit smoking. Smoking is a very serious risk factor for heart disease. Smoking also damages the lungs and causes lung diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and lung cancer. Therefore, if you are a smoker, you should discuss your plan for quitting with your doctor and set a “quit-smoking timeframe”.
    • Decide on a quit smoking day; it may be your birthday, the start of a new year, your wedding anniversary, or any other day that carries some importance in your life. Start gradually reducing the number of cigarettes that you daily smoke, and finally, on your quit-smoking day, announce to your family and friends that you have quit smoking, so that they can support you throughout the quitting process.
    • Your doctor may help you decide if you need any nicotine replacements, including nicotine patches and nicotine gums.
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    Treat any conditions that put you at increased risk for heart disease. Some medical conditions are risk factors for the development of heart diseases and should be treated according to the advice of your doctor.
    • These include, but not limited to, diabetes, hypertension, lipid disorders and kidney disorders.
    • Appropriate treatment of these conditions can prevent or delay the development of heart issues.

Method 3
Managing Your Stress Levels

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    Identify the sources of stress in your life. Something related to your job, your family life, your friend circle, traffic jams, breaking news on the news channels - everything that makes you feel stressed must be included in the list.
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    Identify how you are coping with stress currently. Is it any of the following unhealthy ways of coping with stress? Smoking, drinking, overeating, taking pills and sleeping for hours, fighting with others. If yes, then pay close attention to the following healthy ways of coping with stress, commonly called as 4 A’s of stress management.
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    Avoid the stress if possible. Look at your stress list and decide which situations or people that are causing the stress in your life can be avoided. For example, if watching the 9 o’ clock news bulletin is stressing you out, switch off your television at 9.
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    Alter the stress if it can’t be avoided. Don’t just let things or people stress you. Take control of your life into your own hands. Think about those unavoidable stress situations very thoroughly, focusing on identifying how you can make those situations not-so-stressful.
    • For example, if you are preparing for a test, and your roommate is disturbing you by talking on the phone, deal with the problem head on rather than just getting stressed. Simply tell him to stop talking!
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    Adapt to the stress. If the situation can’t be altered, maybe you need to change your reaction to the situation. This may involve changing your expectations of other people, looking at things from a broader perspective or finding positive aspects of the situation.
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    Accept the stress if nothing else works out. Trying to control the uncontrollable is never beneficial. So, if something in your stress list cannot be avoided or altered, and there is nothing you can do to adapt to the situation, you should accept the situation as it is rather than fighting a war that you can’t win.
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    Consider seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. It is important to understand that stress may need to be managed under the supervision of a psychiatrist/psychologist. So if the above steps do not work out, discuss your issues with your doctor.

Method 4
Taking Medications

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    Get a prescription for beta blockers. Beta blockers are drugs that interfere with the sympathetic nervous system by blocking the beta-receptors present in the body, including the heart. They result in a reduced heart rate, and thus reduction in the oxygen demand of the heart muscles.
    • Beta blockers are used in patients of known ischemic heart disease. Beta blockers that are mostly used in daily practice to slow the heart rate are Bisoprolol, Carvedilol and Metoprolol succinate.
    • Initial and maximum doses are discussed below. However, you should start these medications only after prescription by your doctor.
    • Bisoprolol is started at 1.25 mg once daily. Maximum dose is 10 mg once daily. Carvedilol is started at 3.125 mg twice daily. Maximum dose is 50 mg twice daily. (Once daily formulations, Carvedilol CR, are also available. Starting dose is 10 mg once daily. Maximum dose is 80 mg once daily) Metoprololsuccinate CR/XL (extended release formulations) are started at 12.5-25 mg once daily. Maximum dose is 200mg once daily.
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    Take nitrates. Nitrates have been used to treat patients with chest pain due to coronary artery disease for over 100 years. Nitrates act by dilating the veins and arteries of the body, including the coronary arteries. The most commonly used nitrates are discussed below.
    • Isosorbide dinitrate is started at 5-20 mg two to three times daily, then raised to a maintenance dose of 10-40 mg two to three times daily.
    • Isosorbide mononitrate is started at 5-10 mg two times daily to 20 mg two times daily. This is also available in an extended release formulation with a dose of 30-60 mg once daily
    • Nitroglycerin sublingual tablets, transdermal patches and rectal formulations are also available. Contact your doctor for the dosage according to clinical symptoms.
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    Use calcium channel blockers. These drugs act by relaxing the muscular walls of all arteries including the coronary vessels. Relaxation of the coronary artery will increase its diameter enabling it to carry more blood and oxygen to the heart muscle.
    • Commonly used calcium channel blockers include Cardizem, Procardia, and Norvasc.

Method 5
Understanding Cardiovascular Health

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    Understand the importance of healthy blood flow. Your heart is the power behind your cardiovascular circulatory system, pumping blood through your blood vessels, supplying every part of your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs for proper functioning.
    • With poor circulation, not only is your blood flow impaired, compromising that blood supply, but your heart is compromised as well. Both have negative consequences and can lead to a variety of health problems.
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    Understand the relationship between blood and oxygen. The coronary arteries deliver blood to the heart muscle, providing a continuous supply of oxygen and nutrients needed for it to stay healthy and functions normally.
    • The harder the heart has to work to pump blood, the more oxygen it needs. For example, when you exercise, your heart rate and blood pressure increases, which in turn increases your heart's demand for oxygen.
    • Good blood flow is essential for proper brain function and oxygen transport to vital organs in the body. Because your heart is the pump that keeps your blood circulating, it's important to maintain a strong heart.
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    Familiarize yourself with the functions of blood and oxygen in the body. Oxygen enters the lungs when we breathe in. It is then carried around the body in the blood.
    • Nutrients from food can't provide energy until they combine with oxygen in the cells of the body. Oxygen (O2) is one of the most important elements required to sustain life. Gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide are transported by blood.
    • Poor circulation can lead directly to heart attack, stroke, eye disease, kidney disease, and claudication (leg muscle pain or weakness that comes and goes after an activity like walking).
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    Learn about the conditions that affect cardiovascular health. There are a number of conditions that interfere with the proper function of the cardiovascular system. These conditions decrease blood and oxygen supply to the heart.
    • Coronary artery disease: This occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle (coronary arteries) become hardened and narrowed due to the buildup of plaque on the inner walls or lining of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Blood flow to the heart is reduced as plaque narrows the coronary arteries. This decreases the oxygen supply to the heart muscle.
    • Angina: Angina is caused by reduced blood flow to your heart muscle. Your blood carries oxygen, which your heart muscle needs to survive. When your heart muscle isn't getting enough oxygen, it causes a condition called ischemia (lack of oxygen supply).
    • Physical trauma that reduces circulation and O2 supply
    • Infections that use up oxygen to combat bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Article Info

Categories: Cardiovascular Health and Blood Pressure