Heart health. If you love your heart, how can you best care for it? How can you keep your heart healthy and happy?
Unfortunately, as of 2020 from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death (20%) in the US. 1 in 5 of those are under 65 years old. Heart disease costs the US over $200 billion each year.
Here’s the latest science to avoid heartbreak.
What’s In Your Heart?
Your heart is a muscular organ about the size of a closed fist which is located between your lungs. It pumps blood through your circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients, while also transporting metabolic waste such as carbon dioxide to your lungs.
The heart pumps blood with a rhythm determined by a group of pacemaker cells. These generate a current that causes the heart to contract. A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.
Key Heart Health Risk Factors
High blood pressure (hypertension), high blood cholesterol, and smoking are top risk factors for heart disease.
Also, you are at a higher risk for heart disease if you have these medical conditions or lifestyle impacts, including:
- Obesity / Overweight
- Unhealthy diet and/or microbiome
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
- Loneliness and lack of social interaction
Cardiovascular diseases do not frequently have symptoms but as they progress may cause chest pain or shortness of breath. Diagnosis of heart disease is often done by taking a medical history, then listening and watching with a stethoscope, ECG, echocardiogram and ultrasound.
A heart computerized tomography (CT) scan creates multiple images that can show any plaque deposits in your blood vessels.
Plaque inside the arteries of your heart can grow and restrict blood flow to the muscles of your heart. They can break off and cause blockages. Measuring calcified plaque with a heart scan may allow your doctor to identify possible coronary artery disease before you have signs and symptoms.
The result of the test is usually given as a number called an Agatston score. The score reflects the total area of calcium deposits and the density of the calcium. When calcium is present, the higher the score, the higher your risk of heart disease.
- A score of 100 to 300 means moderate plaque deposits. It’s associated with a relatively high risk of a heart attack or other heart disease over the next three to five years.
- A score greater than 300 is a sign of very high to severe disease and heart attack risk.
- Unfortunately, your body does not naturally remove coronary calcium so your score continues to increase through your lifetime.
Companies like Shockwave Medical have created treatments to break up and remove high risk cardiac calcium. A healthy diet low in red meat, processed meat, fried foods, sweets and dairy is even better to avoid this procedure.
Heart Health Key Factors
Beyond the bad things above which damage your heart and circulatory system, what can you do to improve your cardiovascular health? Almost all of the 23 Key Factors to Keep Health in 2023 benefit your heart health. Find it in your heart to follow them. See also our tips for Bloody Good Health.
Heart Health Optimal Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Ranges
As a quick reminder for optimal longevity, keep your LDL cholesterol level < 100 mg/dl and your blood pressure < 115/76 according to Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic. As part of your annual physical, you will receive these numbers from blood testing.
That said, your body, especially your brain (!), needs some LDL cholesterol to stay healthy. A minimum of 70 mg/dl seems to be important to avoid risk of brain hemorrhaging. See this well-researched article for more on the actual importance of cholesterol to your body and the surprising background on the studies which led to emphasis on cholesterol reduction.
For HDL cholesterol, a minimum of 40 mg/dl for men and 50 mg/dl for women is the standard. Going above 60 mg/dl of HDL may be dangerous in part because it can slow the process of clearing LDL cholesterol from your arteries.
Likewise, for blood pressure, keeping it above 90/60mmHg is important for good health as symptoms from low blood pressure include dizziness and fainting. Not surprisingly, very low blood pressure is life-threatening.
The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day as part of healthy eating. However, about 90% of Americans consume more than 3,400 mg daily.
If you consume too much sodium, your kidneys cannot process all of it. The remaining sodium elevates your blood pressure, putting you at risk for a heart attack, cardiac arrest, kidney failure or a stroke.
Heart Health Monitoring
How can you set your heart health baseline to determine how healthy your heart is? Beyond what you can get with your annual physical, there are private companies which will provide a full body scan of your heart and circulatory system as part of setting your health baseline. They detect aneurysms and other dangerous conditions.
There are also options for continuous heart monitoring devices to get feedback on your heart health to make sure it has a proper rhythm.
The Rhythm of Your Heart
Heart arrhythmia treatment may be needed if an irregular heartbeat is causing you significant symptoms, or if the condition is putting you at risk of more-serious heart problems.
Treatment for heart arrhythmias depends on whether you have a fast heartbeat (tachycardia) or slow heartbeat (bradycardia). Some heart arrhythmias do not need treatment. Your doctor may recommend regular checkups to monitor your condition.
Treatment for heart arrhythmias may include medications, therapies such as vagal maneuvers, cardioversion, catheter procedures or various heart surgeries including installing a pacemaker.
Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training takes only a couple of hours and you could save someone’s life.
Before discussing CPR, it is important to know the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is interrupted, usually by a blood clot, whereas sudden cardiac arrest is when an electrical malfunction in the heart causes it to stop beating. A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.
If someone is having a heart attack but is alert with a steady heartbeat, CPR is not appropriate.
If someone goes into cardiac arrest, it is recommended that adults start CPR and provide 100-120 chest compressions per minute. That is fast and tiring to deliver. However when CPR is performed in the moments after someone goes into cardiac arrest, the chances of survival are double or triple what they would be if that person waited for paramedics or emergency room treatment.
When performing CPR and the person shows signs of life, such as open eyes and regular breathing, stop CPR immediately. Allow the person to recover, but be prepared if the individual’s heart stops beating again.
Thanks for reading and taking care of yourself. In reward for focusing on your health, see this skit from heart attack comic Norm Macdonald to find out why he doesn’t love his heart. After watching, you may want to go buy a defibrillator. It might save your life.