Monthly Archives: August 2016
If you’ve been burning the midnight oil at work, you might want to forward this blog to your boss. New and emerging research published recently in the European Heart Journal found that British civil service employees who worked 11 to 12 hours per day had a significantly higher risk of heart attack, angina or coronary death than those who clocked a normal eight-hour workday. The link between heart disease and overtime work, researchers suggested, could be explained by “type A” behavior (such as aggressive, competitive and perfectionist tendencies), stress (like depression and anxiety) and possibly not enough sleep—or enough time to unwind before hitting the hay.
Studies like these serve as a good reminder that controlling your heart health isn’t just about nutrition and fitness. These days, the (relative!) convenience of smartphones, laptops and other work-from-home tools, make it all too easy to blur the lines between business hours and downtime. If you regularly find yourself working overtime, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate your work-life balance and make some changes. After all, if you’re trying to improve upon your diet and level of physical activity in order to manage your heart-disease risk, improving your work-life balance should take equal priority. Easier said than done, I know.
A good way to start is to simply designate one day per week that you’ll work reasonable hours. When you’ve got that routine under your belt, try for more days during the week, if you can. But if an eight-hour day just isn’t possible for you, the good news is that the study found working a just a few (one or two) overtime hours won’t come at an expense to your health. Just as you keep a careful eye on the food you eat, make it your mission to be conscious of the hours you work, too.
So, on that note, I think I’ll close my laptop and sign off. It’s quittin’ time.
Sure, you know that living an active life is good for your ticker. But do you really know why exercise is such a powerful heart-disease protector? Be active, and see all that you’ll reap:
1. Better blood-sugar control. People with diabetes have a significantly higher risk of heart problems, so anything that keeps that disease in check protects the heart, too.
2. Improved circulation. Your heart is a muscle, and exercise helps make it stronger. A strong heart pumps blood more efficiently, and delivers more oxygen and nutrients to every inch of your body. This improvement in circulation increases energy levels so you can do more activities without getting tired.
3. Lower blood pressure. Being active helps reduce the risk of developing high-blood pressure, and it helps control it if it sets in.
4. Healthier cholesterol levels. Physical activity increases HDL (good) cholesterol, decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol and decreases triglycerides.
5. Reduced stress. Exercise triggers biochemical changes in your brain that temper feelings of anxiety and depression, a condition that has been linked to heart disease.
6. Weight loss. Sweating it out forces the body to burn more calories, which means there are fewer available that can be stored as fat.
7. Sounder sleep. Living actively can help improve the quality of your sleep as well as help you fall asleep faster. And that’s good new for your heart: Research has linked chronic sleep deprivation to heart disease.
8. Appetite control. Working it may help curb your appetite, which can make it easier to lose and control your weight.
9. More efficient fat metabolism. Exercising after a high-fat meal can help reverse some of the damage that fat does to your arteries.
10. Improved symptoms. If you already have heart disease, exercise may decrease symptoms of angina (chest discomfort) and heart failure. Ready to get moving? Get the all clear from your doctor and check out these resources for starting an exercise program.
When you’re living a heart-healthier lifestyle, you’re not only working to protect your ticker, but you’re also helping your brain ward off stroke. There are two types of these “brain attacks”: The most common is ischemic, in which a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked; the second type is hemorrhagic, in which a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. (behind heart disease and cancer), and women are more likely to die from it than men. In fact, this year, more than 100,000 women under 65 will suffer one, according to the American Stroke Association. Serious side effects can result, including vision problems, paralysis, memory loss, and speech and language problems, and sometimes even death.
While many of the risk factors for stroke and heart disease are similar (high-blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise and a diet high in fat and salt), some are unique—especially for women. Here’s the lowdown:
• Migraines Women who suffer from migraines with aura (visual disturbances like flashing lights) are more likely to have an ischemic stroke compared to those who don’t, according to two recent studies. Researchers found that the risk increases even more if a migraine sufferer smokes, uses birth control pills and is under age 45, according to a study published last year in British Medical Journal. If you experience migraines with aura, experts advise quitting smoking and avoiding birth control pills. And, of course, speak with your doctor first.
• Birth-control pills Taking a low-dose birth control pill on its own—without any other risk factors—may significantly up your risk of suffering a stroke, according to new and emerging research published last year in MedLink Neurology. The Pill may increase your chance of developing blood clots and high-blood pressure, both of which can contribute to a stroke.
• Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) In a review of 28 studies published in the British Medical Journal, women who took HRT had a significantly greater chance of suffering an ischemic stroke than those who did not—and their recovery tended to be worse. Researchers aren’t sure why HRT increases the risk of stroke, but the hormone estrogen may play a role.
• Autoimmune diseases Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from one of these illnesses, which cause the body’s immune system to attack various organs and systems. Several autoimmune diseases raise your risk of stroke. Women with antiphospholipid syndrome, a disorder in which immune cells attack the lining of blood vessels, are prone to developing blood clots, making them more susceptible to stroke. Taking low-dose aspirin or other medications, such as warfarin, help thin the blood, reducing the risk. Another common autoimmune disease that can lead to stroke is lupus. It can cause blood clots and create inflammation inside blood vessels, blocking blood flow. Treatment includes steroid medications to reduce inflammation and aspirin.
Good news first: “Stress is not a direct cause of heart attack or the buildup of plaque inside your blood vessels,” says cardiologist Stephano Sdringola, M.D., principal investigator for the heart disease research project known as the Century Health Study. However, stress can lead to high blood pressure, which can indeed hurt you. And unchecked stress can also play a big role in heart disease by leading to unhealthy choices. “You may smoke, eat poorly, not exercise and gain weight to cope.” After all, who hasn’t engaged in some stress-eating? And when we do, chances are we’re not grabbing a bag of baby carrots.
What’s more, stress also sets off the release of the hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol. Imagine what you feel like when you almost get into a car crash. When you have a close call, you can’t breathe, you can’t focus, because these stress hormones are circulating in your body. When you’re stressed all the time, those hormones remain chronically high, which may keep blood pressure elevated. Granted, it’s the rare occasion where you can simply make the stressful situation stop. What you can do, however, is change the way you react to it. See below for a few good-for-you stressbusters:
– Take regular breaks. When you start to feel tired, instead of having coffee, go for a walk. The opportunity to be active will trigger the release of endorphins and help your body and mind relax.
– Schedule quiet and relaxation time—put it in your calendar. Meditation, prayer or simply reading can help you cope, according to the American Heart Association. Try yoga or relaxation breathing classes at a gym or studio near you.
– Seek help. Need some more help on changing your ways? Check out stress-reduction programs, books and CDs created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Deepak Chopra, M.D., or Alice Domar, Ph.D.