Ask Dr. Pat · Health

4. Reconsider Alcohol

A number of recent observations have challenged the long cherished assumptions that a mild to moderate amount of alcohol should be adopted by individuals trying to improve their overall health. These older observations indicated that  alcohol and perhaps red wine in particular may have far-reaching health benefits encouraging the American Heart Association (AHA) to recommend one drink (2 ounces of alcohol) daily for women and one or two for men. More recent observations using much more rigorous scientific techniques are far more sobering.

Several cohort studies following large groups of women and men for decades have indicated a linear relationship of cancer risk with alcohol consumption. As in cigarette smoking, no threshold is apparent; all levels of consumption increase risk.  Further, a flurry of studies conclude that the amounts of alcohol promoted  by the American Heart Association were sufficient to lead to atrophy of the brain hippocampal region, critical to maintenance of memory. This degeneration was not observed with alcohol use limited to less than or equal to five drinks a week.

The cardiovascular impact of alcohol has been a bit more complex with most studies still supporting a potential benefit of low amounts. However, regular or high alcohol use can hurt your heart and lead to diseases of the heart muscle, called cardiomyopathy. Drinking alcohol regularly also can raise your blood pressure.

Binge drinking — four or more drinks for women and five or more for men in about two hours — can cause irregular heart rhythms called arrhythmias. So even if you don’t have any alcohol during the week, you shouldn’t save all of your drinking for the weekend and overdo it.

Cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle disease, is a type of progressive heart disease in which the heart is abnormally enlarged, thickened, and/or stiffened. As a result, the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood is weakened, often causing heart failure and the backup of blood into the lungs or rest of the body. The disease can also cause abnormal heart rhythms.

Based on these observations “less is more.” An individual who endeavors to embrace a wholesome lifestyle may reasonably abstain from alcohol altogether, or enjoy a small amount, in effect trading a minimal cancer risk for a reduction in  cardiovascular disease along with the social and culinary benefits alcohol may provide in the context of an overall healthy lifestyle.

Reference: Guzzo-Merello G, Cobo-Marcos M, Gallego-Delgado M, Garcia-Pavia P World J Cardiol. 2014;6(8):771


5. Exercise to Achieve a Healthy Heart

Be active! Inactivity is a major risk factor of heart disease, similar to smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. People who exercise regularly have a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t. Exercise strengthens your heart muscle at the same time that it controls inflammation and helps keep weight, cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels.

The goal should be 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Fit it in where and when you can and never sit for too long at one time. A simple brisk walk before or after work is an excellent form of exercise. A small amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all.


6. Trim Your Waistline

Obesity is an epidemic in this country. Being overweight can substantially increase your risk of heart disease. Multiple studies have shown that half of all fatal heart attack cases are linked to being overweight and having a high body mass index (BMI) or large waist. Fat around the waistline is bad for you because it is metabolically active and raises your blood pressure, lowers your HDL and increases your risk of diabetes. Ideally a woman’s waistline should be less than 29 inches and men ideally should have a waistline smaller than 35 inches.


7. Make Sleep a Priority

Sleep is the cornerstone to keeping your heart healthy and is markedly underrated. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep most nights. The lack of sleep can substantially increase your cardiovascular risk. Multiple studies have supported that those who sleep fewer than six hours a night are at increased risk for developing a stroke or heart attack in comparison to those who sleep more than seven hours a night.


8. Reduce Stress, Be Optimistic, Laugh

When your stress level goes up so does your risk of heart disease, and research suggests that emotional stress can be as detrimental to your heart as conventional risk factors. Negative emotions can cause the release of hormones, like cortisol, that can threaten your overall heart health. The good news is that stress can be addressed, combatted and significantly reduced in your life — you have to just believe that it is important enough to take action. Finally, laughter may be the best medicine and having a sense of humor is healthy. People who are optimistic and who are able to see that  glass as half full live longer with less disease.

Avoid an all-or-nothing mentality. Stay positive and don’t get discouraged. Start slow but begin to make changes in your choices, your routine and your life today. Finally, believe in yourself and take care of your heart.



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