Take Heart: Stress and Heart Health

“Limit stress” is probably the most difficult heart healthy habit to adopt because stressful situations are often out of our control. Many times you know exactly what is causing your stress but there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes there are things you can do: change to a less stressful job, de-clutter your living spaces, send the children to Grandma’s for a month, break a big problem down into small actionable steps, etc., but sometimes all you can do is exercise and pray.

Why pray? It’s out of your control, but nothing is out of God’s control.

heart stressWhy exercise? Ongoing stress isn’t good for your heart because it raises your blood pressure. Exercise lowers your blood pressure therefore helping to “destress” your body. Stress saps your energy, exercise increases it. Stress robs you of sleep, exercise improves sleep. Stress produces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, exercise reduces those and produces endorphins which are to the brain what chocolate is to womankind.

Sometimes looking at heart health can stress you out too. All of the do’s and don’ts can be overwhelming, especially if you have a long way to go to make your cardiologist proud. You don’t have to change everything all at once; you’ll drive yourself crazy and give up. The goal is a heart healthy lifestyle, so adding one healthy habit at a time and building on your progress is a good way to go. (NOTE: if you have had a heart attack or stroke, ignore me and do what your doctor tells you! If s/he says you should change many habits at once, do it! Those of us who haven’t almost died sometimes need a gradual approach because we’re lazy or stubborn or don’t think it’ll happen to us. Silly us.)

heart stress 2Here’s the list of recommendations to keep your heart healthy:

  1. Sleep 7-8 hours each night.
  2. Eat plants: Roughly half of what you eat should be plants: fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains (as in “not processed and looks like a grain”: rice, oatmeal, lentils, quinoa, etc., not bread or pasta even if they’re labeled “whole grain”.)
  3. Exercise 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week.
  4. Don’t smoke.
  5. Limit stress.

Put a check next to the ones you already do. Great job! Now look at the ones you didn’t check. Which one is the most important for you to focus on first? If you’re pre-diabetic, start with exercise. If you’re trying to lose weight, replace half of what’s on your plate with plants. If you’re too tired to change your life, start with sleep. What measurable goals can you set to get that habit rolling? What specifically can you do today?

The holidays can be a stressful time. Make time to move your body and give yourself the gift of a stress free heart.

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” (said Jesus) John 14:1

 

References:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax

 

Images courtesy of: Amazon.com (stress balls), health.harvard.edu (stethoscope)

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Salmon Burgers

In our heart health series, salmon keeps popping up as an important source of Omega-3s, magnesium, blah blah blah, it’s delicious and good for us, but can also be expensive. Today’s recipe uses canned salmon which is fairly cheap and already cooked which makes it quick and easy. Everything in the can is edible, including the bones and skin, but if consuming a creature’s backbone weirds you out, just drain, dump on a plate, and fish out the bits you don’t want. The little bones are a pain in the rib to remove plus they’re edible (think celery texture) and full of calcium , so go ahead and leave them in there.  You’re not being lazy, you’re being healthy.20171119_115210_HDR

Ingredients:

1 can salmon

1/3 cup onion, chopped

1/3 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1/3 cup bread crumbs

2 eggs

¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 Tb lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 Tb oil

 

Directions:

Drain salmon. (Optional: remove backbone and skin.) Mix all ingredients except oil. Form 5-6 patties ½ inch thick.

Heat pan on medium heat and add oil. Fry salmon burgers 2 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Thankfully Funny

skinny turkeyI’m thankful for the variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables available to me from around the world. I’m thankful for easy access to clean drinking water.

Sister: Mom wants your to help us fix Thanksgiving Day dinner.
Brother: Why? Is it broken?

I’m thankful for grandparents who ate vegetables and took daily walks. I can see the results of their healthy living as they enter their 90’s and I tell you, it’s worth it.

Pedro: I was going to serve sweet potatoes with Thanksgiving dinner, but I sat on them.
Westy: What are you serving now?
Pedro: Squash.

I’m thankful that my body adapts to my habits whether good or bad. Every day is new and gives me a chance to start fresh.

Q: What sound does a turkey’s phone make?
A: Wing, Wing! Wing, Wing!

I’m thankful for you, my readers. Happy Thanksgiving!

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. Hebrews 12:28

 

Jokes courtesy of:

35 Funny Thanksgiving Day Jokes and Comics

https://www.rd.com/jokes/thankgiving-jokes/

With All my Heart: Hypertension and Heart Health (Part 2)

Last week we talked about global body shipping and how high blood pressure (also called hypertension) can damage our body. This week we’ll look at the leading causes of hypertension and what we can do about them.

Atherosclerosis – This is a big word that I like to call Gather-old-Playdoh-sis. You know how new Playdoh is soft and pliable and so pretty you just want to eat it? That’s how blood vessels are supposed to be. Over time Playdoh hardens and shrinks as it dries out and that’s what happens in your blood vessels. Blood vessel linings gets pot holes, cholesterol fills in the pot holes and hardens there like Playdoh, and then your blood vessel can’t expand and contract easily like it used to.

Atherosclerosis can be prevented or slowed by exercising and eating a diet high in plant parts. Diet and exercise prevent pot holes from forming and reduce the amount of fat Playdoh in the blood looking for a pot hole. Science isn’t sure if hypertension increases atherosclerosis or if atherosclerosis increases hypertension. They do know that exercise and eating greens helps decrease both. It’s kind of like the “What came first: the chicken or the egg?” debate. Answer? Doesn’t matter; they’re both delicious. Eat your greens and move your body and don’t worry about it.

Sleep Apnea – More than half of people with hypertension also have sleep apnea, so scientists are pretty sure there’s a connection. (Let’s face it: when we talk about the human body, there is always a connection.) High blood pressure can trigger sleep apnea which causes poor sleep or a lack of sleep which raises your blood pressure which can trigger sleep apnea. A doctor can direct you to a helpful mask to improve your sleep. You can also lose weight and exercise.

Smoking and Drinking – Stop smoking and don’t drink more than 1-2 alcoholic drinks per day. Yes, I am a party pooper.

Too much salt – Remember how your blood vessel walls are made of smooth muscle? Blood pressure is all about those wall muscles being able to relax to let blood flow. For the walls to relax and contract regularly, they need regulators: namely the Three Musketeers (or the Three MagCalPots): magnesium, calcium, and potassium. There is a connection between hypertension and insufficient magnesium, calcium, and potassium and it may have something to do with salt.

You see, Salt is supposed to be the fourth musketeer, but he went off and recruited so many many many of his friends that they turned evil and wrought havoc. The Three Musketeers must be present to balance out Salt and his friends; if there aren’t enough of the Three MagCalPots, then Salt wins and blood pressure goes up. You can help the Musketeers by putting less salt and more magnesium, calcium, and potassium in your mouth.

By the way, it’s recommended that you eat no more than 1 teaspoon (2300 mg) of sodium (salt) each day. The ideal goal is 1500 mg, but Americans eat so much sodium that even cutting down to 2300 is a plus. Be aware that 75% of the sodium most of us eat is in processed, pre-packaged, and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker.

Genetics and Family History – hypertension runs in the family. If hypertension runs in your family, it’s even more important that you exercise and eat well. Sorry. Maybe you also inherited a sharp wit or great hair.

 

Note: I should to point out that the medical community isn’t 100% sure what causes hypertension. They observe connections between hypertension and heart attacks, atherosclerosis, sleep apnea, etc., and make highly educated guesses. They also observe the connections between healthy habits and improved hypertension and make highly educated recommendations. What is 100% certain? We can take hypertension as the warning sign it is and make healthy changes.

 

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  2 Corinthians 1:8b, 9b

 

References:

Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045868

Web MD https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/blood-pressure-causes#1

Calcium and hypertension https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2448982

Calcium and hypertension https://www.livestrong.com/article/149390-calcium-and-hypertension/

Potassium and Calcium https://www.everydayhealth.com/hypertension/get-your-minerals.aspx

Calcium https://www.healthcentral.com/article/lower-high-blood-pressure-with-calcium

Sodium https://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/how_much_sodium_should_i_eat

With All my Heart: Hypertension and Heart Health

Ever wonder why you have a pulse? Obviously your pulse is there because your heart is pumping, but why can you feel it? Why does the blood vessel push against your fingers for a moment and then disappear under your skin?

The simple answer is that your blood vessels are flexible, not stiff. As the blood from the heart pumps through, the blood vessel can expand like a balloon and then shrink back as the blood passes. Unlike a balloon, the blood vessel doesn’t get stretched out with each expansion because the walls of the vessel are mostly made of smooth muscles that contract or squeeze back into shape again. The expand and contract pattern with each pump of the heart keeps the blood under pressure so that it flows in one direction. It’s like a water slide adjusting to each rider as she passes.

heart bp1These smooth muscles move involuntarily (i.e. you can’t control them like an arm or a finger) to regulate the volume of blood in the vessel and how forcefully that blood flows. Blood vessels are not passive garden hoses but more like millions of tiny fans keeping the wave going in a tubular stadium. This is mind blowingly cool, but what does it have to do with hypertension and heart health?

When the smooth muscles in the blood vessel walls contract too much, they become stiff and tense or, if you will, “hyper tense” which causes the blood pressure to rise. Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure and contributes in a big way to heart disease. Statistics say that if 10 people have untreated hypertension, 5 of them will die of a heart attack and 3 of them will die of a stroke. Hypertension is dangerous if left untreated, but why?

heart bp2Hypertension is a warning sign that blood is not flowing well in the body. Blood pressure goes up because the blood has to press harder to get through the vessels, i.e. the heart pumps extra hard. In our shipping analogy, hypertension is all of the sailors working harder and harder to get the ships to the docks, but not getting there any faster than they used to. After years of hard sailing, shipments are delayed or detoured and the sailors simply can’t sail up every tiny tributary like they used to because the way is clogged with pollution or traffic. Any body part of the world that receives fewer shipments than necessary will suffer. Another way to say it is that if a body part lacks blood, it also lacks oxygen which it needs for energy producing reactions within the cells, so it will not have energy and cells will die. If enough cells die, we develop symptoms.

Let’s take a trip around the body globe. Yes, I know the analogy is wearing thin, but I’m up a creek and dropped my paddle, so you’ll just have to drift downstream with me.

North America is the heart because “home is where the heart is” and my home is in North America. (Feel free to print out the map and draw your heart wherever you want.) If blood shipments to North America stop completely, the Earth dies; this is a heart attack. If the shipments slow down enough to almost stop, North America riots which causes pain; this is a heart attack that doesn’t kill you but gives you a chance to change. About half of people with untreated hypertension end up with a heart attack.

Asia is known for electronics manufacturing, so it represents our brain. The brain has been compared to a computer and we think about (or maybe with) our electronics a scary lot of the time. If shipping to Asia brain is cut off, we have a stroke. Maybe we die and maybe we just have some brain damage, but either way we suffer without our electronics. Poor blood flow in the brain can even cause vascular dementia. About one third of people with untreated hypertension end up having a stroke.

heart bp3Africa is home to the Sahara Desert which has the most uninterrupted view in the world (I’m guessing) from the top of a dune on a cloudless day. Africa represents our eyes and hypertension is a sand storm. Eyes need nourishing blood to see properly and when they don’t get enough, vision can become blurry or be lost completely.

South America is home to the Amazon River which processes a LOT of water so South America represents our kidneys which process and clean our blood. If the blood vessels inside of or leading to the kidneys are damaged, the blood can’t get in and flow through to be cleaned. The Amazon River becomes polluted and we need dialysis or die. The number one cause of kidney failure is high blood pressure.

Europe is the bones of the world because they have the most stone castles which are kind of like skeletons because they provided structure and protection in feudal society…stone and bone rhyme, shall we just go with that? Hypertension can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis because calcium is recruited from the bones to patch up tiny tears in the blood vessel lining.

Sorry, Australia, I’m out of body parts! I’m sure hypertension would ruin you too, though.

Hypertension normally takes many years to cause damage and not everyone will suffer the same symptoms or any symptoms at all. But I now understand why blood pressure is considered important enough to be checked regularly as a “vital sign”. Next week we’ll look at what we can do to help reduce hypertension.

 

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:45

Recipe: Beans and Greens

As I research heart health, two foods keep coming up as good for your heart: leafy greens and beans (red and yellow, black and white, they’re delicious in our sight). So in honor of heart health, here’s a quick, easy, tasty recipe for Beans and Greens.

Beans and GreensIngredients:

1/2 TBS olive oil

1 small onion, chopped (approx. 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup water

2 tsp beef bullion paste (or 1 packet powdered)

4 cloves garlic, minced

8 cups kale, chopped into 1-2″ pieces (approx 6-8 oz)

1 cup broccoli slaw

1 can beans, drained and rinsed (approx 2 cups)

Parmesan cheese, grated

salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in 6 quart stock pot over medium heat. Saute onions for 2 minutes.
  2. Dissolve beef bullion in water, add to pot, and stir. Add garlic and kale, stir, cover and cook 5 minutes.
  3. Add broccoli slaw and beans, stir. Cover and cook 5 minutes.
  4. Salt to taste. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.