By Kathy Hubbard
In your lifetime, your heart will beat around 2.5 billion times pushing millions of gallons of blood to every inch of your body. This steady flow of blood carries oxygen, fuel, hormones, other compounds and a whole host of essential cells. It also whisks away the waste products of metabolism.
“When the heart stops, essential functions fail, some almost instantly,” an article on Harvard Medical School’s website says. “Given the heart’s never-ending workload, it’s a wonder it performs so well, for so long, for so many people.”
But then, there are the 600,000 people who die each year because of heart disease making it the leading cause of death in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 735,000 Americans will have a heart attack this year, 210,000 of them will happen to people who’ve already had one or more.
You wouldn’t be reading this article if you weren’t interested in health subjects. So, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you know that many heart diseases are preventable and that a healthy lifestyle includes not smoking, eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise.
“Although many people develop some form of cardiovascular disease (a catch-all term for all of the diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels) as they get older, it isn’t inevitable,” Harvard says. “A healthy lifestyle, especially when started at a young age, goes a long way to preventing cardiovascular disease.”
Most likely, you also know that uncontrolled high blood pressure is a huge contributor to heart disease. But, did you know that people with hypertension should avoid taking oral decongestants? This is particularly important to know now during cold and flu season.
“Decongestants – like pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine – constrict blood vessels,” An article on American Heart Association’s website says. “They allow less fluid into your sinuses, which dries you up,” said Dr. Erin Michos, associate director of preventive cardiology at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease in Baltimore.
“But if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, the last thing you need is constricting blood vessels,” she said. “It can exacerbate or worsen the condition.”
Just having a cold or the flu can strain your cardiovascular system. While your body is fighting the infection your heart rate increases and is more vulnerable to inflammation. AHA cautions about taking NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), Naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox DS), Celecoxib (Celebrex) which can cause problems by reducing the amount of sodium excreted through the urine, which increases fluid retention and raises blood pressure.
Before you take any medications, even those commonly sold over-the-counter, you should check with your primary care provider. He or she can advise you on what to take, how much and when. And, I can’t stress this enough, always read the labels and follow the directions, please!
We are all aware of the myriad of problems high stress can cause. Combine high stress and high blood pressure and our hearts turn into time bombs. Learning how to reduce stress is complicated and there are no cookie-cutter solutions.
But, I like the twenty-eight ideas on Healthline.com that offer some different perspectives on heart health such as eating salsa and having more sex.
They advise putting your hands to work to help your mind unwind. “Engaging in activities such as knitting, sewing, and crocheting can help relieve stress and do your ticker some good. Other relaxing hobbies, such as woodworking, cooking, or completing jigsaw puzzles, may also help take the edge off stressful days,” Healthline says.
They also suggest laughing out loud and taking up roller skating or bowling. “You can have fun while burning calories and giving your heart a workout.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, exasperated or angry, take a walk. “Even a five-minute walk can help clear your head and lower your stress levels,” Healthline advises. They also say to take the long way home and enjoy the scenery. The trick here is to put down your cellphone.
And finally for today, brush your teeth! “Good oral hygiene does more than keep your teeth white and glistening. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some research suggests that the bacteria that cause gum disease can also raise your risk of heart disease.”
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.