Iris Krasnow: Take cardiovascular health tips to heart – Capital Gazette

As January dies and a new month is born, more important than Valentine’s Day is that February is American Heart Month. That designation is meant to focus on the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Here are some health tips you need to know to protect your heart that you have probably heard often, though might need to hear again and again:
Get off the couch! Sitting too much, and laying around too much, leads to killer diseases and a shorter life.
A recent study of 100,000 people in 21 countries, co-authored by Scott Lear, a health sciences professor at at the British Columbia-based Simon Fraser University and Wei Li of Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, found that those who sat for six to eight hours a day had a 12-13 per cent increased risk for early death and heart disease. Sitting for more than eight hours daily increased that to 20 percent.
Like all our muscles that benefit from movement, keeping up an exercise regimen makes the heart muscle stronger, increases blood flow and is beneficial for overall well-being. Before you run a 10-K after a cardiac incident, though, consult with your doctor about how to start steady and slow.
Then step it up, if your recovery fitness level can take it: The recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion are that “adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity, aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity.”
Mixing in weights and resistance-training is a bonus, as strength training increases blood flow, decreasing the risk of heart disease.
Heart Month is a good time to get into a better exercise routine. Here, hikers make their way over a bridge in the Bacon Ridge Natural area in Crownsville. (By Paul W. Gillespie / Baltimore Sun Media Group)
The latest CDC statistics are sobering: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 314,186 women in 2020, or causing about one in every five female deaths. The signs for women can be surprising and subtle.
Beyond the classic heart attack symptom of squeezing or intense pain in the center of your chest, here are other red alerts for women in detecting cardiovascular distress:
Some of the above could also be experienced by men, though they are a clear warning to females to get checked out. Shake the myth that a heart attack is all about chest pain. No one should wait until an emergency arises. Make sure your annual physicals include monitoring heart health, ranging from checks for high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol counts and regular EKGs.
Also pay attention to your level of stress, which is a large contributor to strokes and heart attack. Meditate. Walk in nature. Get away from your screen. Hang around with feel-good people.
On the subject of stress and health, the loss of a loved one or the breakup of relationship is a mega-stressor that can literally break your heart. An important book on the subject, “Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey,” by Florence Williams, validates the close connection of medical scars on the heart with the emotional scarring of breaking up.
As Williams wrote about her own severed love relationship, “I felt like I’d been axed in the heart, like I was missing a limb, set adrift in the adrift int he ocean…”
Indeed, that crushing weight on the chest can feel like a heart attack and can actually be one. We all know of long-married couples that die within days or weeks of each other.
Research conducted by the American Heart Association describes “broken-heart syndrome” like this: “… a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. The bad news: Broken-heart syndrome can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure. The good news: Broken-heart syndrome is usually treatable. Most people who experience it make a full recovery within weeks, and they’re at low risk for it happening again [although in rare cases it can be fatal].”
Blue Zone meals,packed with fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts, with a focus on the greens, such as spinach, kale and collards, can lead to a longer life. (AlexRaths / iStock via Getty Images)
For a heart-healthy diet and a longer life, look to the eating habits of those who live in the Blue Zones. These are the cities in the world where people live the longest, and include: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.
Blue Zone meals are packed with fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts, with a focus on the greens, such as spinach, kale and collards. Citizens of these regions who boast the highest number of centenarians in the world add lots of olive oil to their dishes, an oil that studies show does good things for the good cholesterol.
Meat and other animal products are kept to a minimum and often the choice for fish may be what you sneered at as a child, but could boost your longevity as an adult. Blue Zoners are big on sardines and anchovies. When I eat the Blue Zones recipe for sardines and greens, I already feel like I have tagged on a few years.
Buy yourself the gift of a healthier heart and life, “The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 recipes to live to 100,” by Dan Buettner. One of my favorite dishes in the book is the Porcini Mushroom Risotto, made with low-calorie, high-nutrition arborio rice. Cook this up for your Valentine’s Day dinner for a joint celebration of health and love.