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What Your Heart Does For You

posted on February 12, 2007

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The heart begins its rhythmic beat well before we take our first breath. It beats while we are kept busy pursuing the pleasures and meeting the responsibilities that make up our daily lives. Each day the average heart beats 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. As the heart steadily supports our life's endeavors, what can we do to ensure it keeps the beat?

Robinson: What we know is that over time about half of Americans are ultimately going to die of heart attack or stroke. But the exciting thing about it is it’s very preventable.

Narrator: Dr. Jennifer Robinson practices preventive cardiology at the University of Iowa. While risk factors such as age and genetics are beyond our control, there are many lifestyle choices that can make a big difference.

Robinson: First of all, if you smoke, quit because that cuts at least about fifteen years off your life and moves up your heart attack date by about ten years.

Number two, control your blood pressure. We check the blood pressure every time you walk into the doctor's office. The top number should be under 140 and the bottom number should be under 80.

Number three is cholesterol. Basically if you cut somebody's cholesterol in half, you cut their chance of dying of a heart attack or having a heart attack or stroke in half over five years, which is very powerful. People who have sufficiently high risk, we do recommend they work on diet, but then also take drugs to lower their cholesterol because they are so safe and effective.

What we'd like to do is get rid of the fat and get everybody out walking for thirty minutes five days a week. It only takes about an extra 100, 150 calories a day to gain about 7 pounds a year.

Narrator: Cindy Conroy, a dietician at the Iowa Heart Center, helps cardiac patients learn to eat to live.

Conroy: When we're talking about nutrition and diet and heart disease, one of the things we need to look at besides actual cholesterol content in food is your body fat. And so when we're looking at body fat, this represents a pound of body fat, which is about 3,500 extra calories in your diet.

When we're looking at some of the sources of extra calories, we can look at portion size, but we can also look at high sugar or high calorie extra foods, things like beverages, for instance. One 20-ounce container of cola has equal to 16 teaspoons of sugar, or 1/3 cup of sugar in it. If you drank one 20-ounce cola a day for a month, that’s just over four pounds of sugar.

These are some examples of portions and portion control that you can use at home. For instance, a baseball is equivalent to the size of a peach or a small apple. A tennis ball would be the portion size for a baked potato. And one of the things we'd often see when we go out to eat is that the potatoes are two or three times this size, so you really want to watch your portion when you're eating out.

A hockey puck is an appropriate portion size for pasta or mashed potatoes, which is about a half a cup. A compact disc portion would be a small pancake, a 4-inch pancake.

Or if you're looking at meat choices, a cassette disc or a deck of cards would be 3 ounces of meat, so those would be portion sizes for your meats. And we do generally recommend no more than six ounces of meat in a day.

When we look at the Food Pyramid in relation to good nutrition and heart disease, one of the things that we need to look at would be including more fruits and vegetables in our diet. And the guidelines these days are to include five to nine servings a day.

That sounds pretty intimidating, but when you look at actual portion sizes for fruits and vegetables, you can work that into your diet fairly easily. For instance, at breakfast if you had a whole banana, that’s equivalent to two servings. So it's not really that difficult to get at least five servings into the day's intake.

In terms of heart disease and preventing heart disease, work on your diet and other modifiable risk factors that you have control over.

Robinson: People can do something about it. It's really in their control and it's really never too late. It's never too late to quit. It's never too late to change your diet. It's never too late to start getting more active in your lifestyle. You know, it’s never too early either.

Mundt: The American Heart Association recommends that regular heart screenings begin at age 20. They allow your doctor to weigh things like your family history of heart disease, whether you smoke, drink, and exercise, and the saturated fat content in your diet. Your cholesterol and blood glucose levels can be checked, as well as your blood pressure. Knowing your risk factors is the first step towards heart health, no matter what your age or physical condition.

Tags: health heart Iowa science

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