February — Heart Health Awareness Month — is over. Or is it?
If anything, February ought to be renamed “Cardiovascular Awareness Month”. And it should be extended to the next February … and the next. Why? Your heart beats, say 72 times per minute; that’s 4360 times per hour x 24 hours in a day = 104,640 repetitions! Multiply by 365 days per year and total heartbeats is in the neighborhood of 38 million. Pretty awesome muscle. Now if you live 80 years …. you do the math.
As wonderful as the heart is, it’s only part of the larger cardiovascular system that includes arteries, veins, capillaries (blood vessels). A whole network of these is needed to constantly supply nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle cells, and continual waste removal from those cells.
Your cardiovascular system does not operate in isolation. It is intricately intertwined with other systems of your body. The nervous (including your brain) system, hormones, your respiratory and digestive systems all have powerful interactions with and regulation effects on the functioning of your cardiovascular system.
Cardiovascular health really ought to be discussed and viewed in this expanded perspective. Take blood pressure over your lifetime. Studies done over decades link the quality of your diet to health of the cardiovascular system. Nutrition plays key roles in how well-maintained is the elasticity of your blood vessels. Insufficient water consumption leading to dehydration can either lower or raise blood pressure, depending on other factors such as kidney health and nerve system health.
Some fundamental suggestions to support the health and wellness of your cardiovascular system are:
- Maintain a consistent level of moderate to some intense physical activity every week. On average, 100 to 150 minutes of a variety of activities which can be broken into smaller segments spread out over the days. This improves oxygenation of blood and in particular that which flows to the heart muscle. The brain center that monitors blood oxygen levels also will keep your heart rate steadier.
- Eat an assortment of vegetables and fruits. Many vitamins, minerals and biochemicals called polyphenols play important roles in protecting the interior walls of the cardiovascular system as well as preserving flexibility of those tissues.
- Pull back from consuming refined sugars and starches continuously. This can keep blood glucose at elevated levels (such as in diabetes) for extended times. Over months and years, this may cause premature stiffening and damage throughout the entire cardiovascular system.
- Hydrate throughout each day. (Refer to earlier Hilltop blogs on the website in September, November and December 2011.)
Cardiovascular disease is still a top killer in the U.S. Furthermore it places a tremendous burden on health care costs — something that more preventive actions can help reduce.