It’s Thumping, But is it Pumping?

It’s no secret that as a Nation we are getting bigger.  I’m not talking an increase in our height but an increase in our pant size.  Did you know that the percent of Americans who are obese is 34 percent, while another 34 percent are overweight, meaning that 68% of the population are at risk for health problems directly corresponding to the size of their bodies.  Obesity leads to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea and other conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

I sat down with Dr. James Zebrack a cardiologist from the Heart Center at St. Mark’s to discuss how closely related our hearts are with what we put in our mouth.  This is what he had to say.

While adult diabetes used to be considered a rare disease, eight percent of Americans now have diabetes and an additional 25 percent have pre-diabetes.  Treatment of cardiovascular diseases has become our number one health care expenditure, yet 80 percent of cases are preventable through proper diet, exercise and medications.  Did you hear that 80 percent, meaning MOST CASES ARE PREVENTABLE!

The most important factors to address in order to keep your heart health are to maintain a normal weight, consume good nutrition, get routine exercise and avoid drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse.  An Australian study showed for every hour of TV watched life expectancy was reduced by 22 minutes, and every cigarette smoked shortens life expectancy by 11 minutes.  Maintaining an active lifestyle is vital to a longer and healthier life and a happier disposition.

Following proper nutrition habits will result in a stable and healthy weight without resorting to fad diets.  Factors that lead to successful weight loss include weighing daily, eating smaller size meals every 3-4 hours, balancing meals to include some protein and some low saturated fats, and consuming plenty of water.

Long term weight loss is better achieved by avoiding overeating rather than inducing a state of starvation that reduces energy levels and metabolism.  Several studies have shown that lower carbohydrate diets improve compliance and weight loss, but overall results are similar with low fat diets as well.  When proper nutrition is taken, energy levels improve and it is much easier to stick with a dedicated exercise program.

Some physicians have suggested that a major contributor to obesity and heart disease today is the abundant production of low cost genetically modified wheat products.  While whole grains are healthier than white bread, whole grains consumption was strongly associated with heart disease in the China study.  Wheat products are quickly converted to sugar which elevates blood sugar levels resulting in higher insulin levels and central fat deposition, as well as a rebound craving for sweets when sugar levels fall.  This leads to central obesity, insulin resistance or diabetes and finally small LDL cholesterol particles that are more likely to cause heart disease.

Examples of healthy foods include lean meats such as fish, turkey, or chicken without skin; vegetables (especially cruciferous); whole fruits; nuts; and low fat dairy.  Some meals may be replaced with a protein shake or fresh vegetable juice to reduce calories.  Examples of foods to minimize are foods with high glycemic loads such as pancakes, bagels, or donuts; foods with glycation end products such as charred foods and processed meats (sausage, salami, hot dogs); fried foods  such as French fries or potato chips; whole fat dairy products; salt; and sweetened drinks or diet drinks (even no calorie sweeteners may stimulate appetite).

The average American gets less than seven hours of sleep per night, but getting even less than eight hours of sleep per night is associated with weight gain.  Lack of sleep leads to food cravings, slower metabolism, poor energy, and reduced decision ability.  Improved sleep and energy will result in a more active lifestyle when doing routine activities.   Sleep quality can be improved by engaging in routine exercise and reducing stress levels.  The type and intensity of exercise will depend on age and other medical problems.  Establishing good habits at a young age is important, but it is never too late to learn to exercise.  Walking is always a good start, but as endurance improves, more intense exercise such as biking, elliptical machines, swimming, tennis, or weight lifting is preferred.

It is also very important to visit your physician regularly to have your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and other risk factors monitored and treated.

Since 1912 cardiovascular disease has been the number one cause of death in the United States, but thanks to significant improvements in our understanding of this disease and risk factor control through nutrition, lifestyle modification, and medications we have seen a decline in mortality rates to the point that cardiovascular mortality is becoming second to cancer mortality in parts of the United States.

Dr. James Zebrack is triple board-certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular diseases and echocardiography and has special interests in heart failure and echocardiography.  He currently serves as the Director of Clinical Research and ECP treatment at the Heart Center.

He graduated with his medical degree from the University of Nevada.  Dr. Zebrack completed a residency and cardiology fellowship program at the University of Utah.  It was at the University that he earned awards for research excellence.

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