Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

More than a Best Friend

Jordyn

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart.  If I live long enough, all the components of my heart with be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”  ~Anonymous

We recently lost one of our beloved dogs, Jordyn (to heart failure).  We miss her terribly.  She brought so much joy, comfort and happiness to our lives – simply with her presence and unconditional love.  This post is dedicated to her memory.

Of course, we all know that dogs are used for service – helping those with disabilities and special needs in a functional capacity, and by law enforcement (police dogs, DEA, searching).  Dogs are used for hunting.   Children love playing with and caring for dogs.  However, many do not realize that dogs help us in other ways that are not so obvious and can make a tremendous difference to our wellness and well-being – dogs are actually good for our health!

Spending time with dogs can improve our mood.  Research shows that petting a dog boosts mood-related brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine.  When dogs are near us, we tend to calm down, and speak more slowly and softly.

Dogs encourage us to exercise and socialize.  Dogs need to be walked, which also gets us out exercising and socializing with neighbors and other pet walkers.  Having a dog with us makes us more approachable (ask any man – dogs are chick magnets!).

Stroking a dog (or cat) can lower blood pressure and heart rate.  Heart attack sufferers recover more quickly and survive longer when they have a pet.

Dogs are companions that can help stave off loneliness.  A study conducted at Saint Louis University in 2006 evaluated 37 nursing home residents who all had high scores on a loneliness scale and who were interested in receiving weekly 30-minute visits from dogs.  Half of the residents studied had dog-only visits and the other half shared the dog with other residents.  All of the residents studied felt less lonely after the dog visits – interestingly, the decrease in loneliness was more significant with those that had the dog-only visits.

Dogs have special instincts.  They know when someone is hurting or needs help.   Several years ago, the Lutheran Church Charities developed the “K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs of Addison, Illinois,” which uses dogs in disaster response situations.  They train golden retrievers to provide comfort, help and hope to those recovering from tragedy.  Several dogs were sent to help residents in Newtown, Connecticut following the shootings there.

So the next time you are feeling low or anxious, spend some time with your pooch (or borrow a friend’s) for a fabulous boost to your heart and soul.

Angela, Friend to the Furry 🙂

References:

  1. “How Owning a Dog or Cat can Reduce Stress – The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership,” About.com
  2. “How Pets Comfort Us,” Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Alert, May 27, 2009
  3. “Man’s Best Friend:  Study Shows Seniors Prefer Dogs,” Saint Louis University, January 4, 2006
  4. “‘Comfort Dogs’ Relieve Emotional Stress in Grieving Newtown,” People Magazine, December 28, 2012

January 1, 2013 Posted by | Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turning the beat around…keeping your heart healthy!

Happy Heart Health Month! 

Poor heart health can lead to stroke, artherosclerosis, heart attack and heart failure.  There are, of course, the obvious measures that we can take to keep our hearts healthy. 

Most importantly, if you smoke, STOP NOW.  Cigarettes are products designed to addict and then kill you, and cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the U.S., accounting for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths (U.S. Surgeon General).  Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body, especially to your heart.  Additionally, even if you are not a smoker, according to the American Heart Association (“AHA”), about 22,700 to 69,600 premature deaths from heart and blood vessel disease are caused by other people’s smoke (a/k/a “second-hand smoke”) each year.

Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, is also extremely important for your heart.  The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week (or a combo of each).  Shoot for 30 minutes every day, but if 30 minutes at once is difficult, start with 10-15 minutes in two or three segments a day, which is still beneficial. 

Nutrition, weight management and stress management are also very important in maintaining heart health.

Blood pressure:  What exactly do those two numbers mean?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force applied to the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body.  The pressure is determined by the force and amount of blood pumped, and the size and flexibility of the arteries.  It continually changes, depending on activity, temperature, diet, emotional state, posture, physical state and medications used.  It is measured while you are seated (or lying down), with your arm at rest; the health care provider slips a cuff over your bicep and measures your pulse at your elbow with a stethoscope.  They inflate the cuff until the dial reads about 210 mmHg (when they measure the systolic pressure), then they open the valve slightly, allowing the pressure to gradually fall (measuring the diastolic pressure).

The top number is the “systolic” blood pressure reading, representing the maximum pressure exerted when the heart contracts.   The bottom number is the “diastolic” blood pressure, representing the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting.

Normal, healthy blood pressure should be 120/80 or less.  For instance, mine normally runs on the low side; my last blood pressure reading was 107/60.  However, when I broke my back, it was 150/90 (I was a wee bit stressed at the time).

Consistently high blood pressure damages your heart, leading to coronary artery disease, enlarged heart and heart failure, but can also cause problems for the rest of your body (brain, kidneys, eyes, bones).

Cholesterol and heart health

Cholesterol is the high-molecular-weight alcohol manufactured in the liver and in most human cells.  Blood vessel disease is caused by lesions or cracks in the artery wall.  LDL cholesterol (considered the “bad” cholesterol) is actually responsible for repairing the cracks.  Arterial plaque reduces blood flow and in some cases, blocks blood flow.  When our body starts over-compensating the repair process, we have a buildup of plaque. 

Cholesterol has several roles:

  • It provides our cells necessary stiffness and stability in the cell membrane.  Saturated fats also contributed to this process.  Note, however, when one’s diet contains excessive polyunsaturated fatty acids, these replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane; cells then become flabby.
  • Bile salts are made from cholesterol.  Bile is vital for digestion and assimilation of fats in the diet.
  • Cholesterol acts as an antioxidant, protecting us against free radical damage (which leads to heart disease and cancer).  This may be why cholesterol levels go up with age. 

Without cholesterol, the body cannot properly renew and/or replace its worn or damaged cells, and without new cells, the body ages and dies.  Most of the cholesterol in our body is manufactured by our liver – only about 20% of cholesterol relates to what we eat.

Who is at the highest risk of heart disease?

Perhaps surprisingly, women are more at risk than men.  According to the American Heart Association (“AHA”), cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 American women in 2004.  To raise awareness of heart disease as the number one killer of women, the AHA created Go Red for Women, a social initiative to empower women to take charge of their heart health.

The best assessment of risk comes from triglycerides and your HDL (“good”) cholesterol.  Triglycerides are the major form of fat stored by the body, consisting of three molecules of fatty acid combined with a molecule of the alcohol glycerol.  They are produced by the body and from the foods we eat.  Many of the triglyceride-containing lipoproteins that transport fat in the bloodstream also transport cholesterol.  The lower the triglycerides to HDL ratio, the lower our risk for heart disease.  Your health care provider can test both of these levels.

By eating a diet lower in starch and sugar, higher in good-quality fats, you can reduce elevated cholesterol, lower triglycerides, alter the type of “bad” LDL produced and increase the “good” HDL levels – all of which will reduce your risk of heart disease.

Foods for your heart

Omega-3 fatty acids are the top winner by far as the best supplement for your heart health.  Oily fish (like salmon, trout, herring), walnuts, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are all high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids decrease triglyceride levels and increase HDL (the good cholesterol).  They reduce plaque build-up in arteries, which improves blood flow to the heart.  I keep a supply of pumpkin seeds on my desk for snacking throughout the day (but be very careful about what type of pumpkin seeds you buy – some are processed with hydrogenated oils).  You can buy flax seed, grind it and put it in cereal, yogurt, and salads – it has a nutty flavor to it.  You can also get omega-3’s through supplements (I take 2-6 per day, depending on whether I am getting enough in my daily diet).

Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and prevents absorption.  Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and barley.

Red wine may improve HDL (“good”) cholesterol with its catechins and reservatrol (flavanoids).  Nice!

Soy foods contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and have been shown to lower triglycerides.

Spinach contains powerful phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals (magnesium, folate and iron, in particular) that help protect against heart disease.  (For more on spinach and magnesium, read my 4/26/10 blog, “I’m strong to the finich, ’cause I eats me spinach!”)

Perhaps for Valentine’s Day this year, give yourself and your family the gift of checking in on the health of your heart.  You only have one and it is a real pain to replace.

Angela, Heart Healthy 🙂

References:

  1. Nutritional Weight & Wellness Nutrition Series – 2009
  2. Journal of Holistic Medicine, Cranton & Frankelton, Spring/Summer 1984
  3. American Heart Association (http://www.americanheart.org)
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health – MedlinePlus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus)
  5. “Definition of Triglycerides,” MedicineNet.com
  6. “5 Heart-Healthy Foods,” WebMD (http://www.webmd.com)

February 6, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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