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Month: September 2017

Heart Rate Variability

Thinking about your health means understanding your heart health, and paying attention to measures like cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. There is one more to add to the list: heart rate variability.

“Heart rate variability is the variation in the time between each heart beat,” explains John P. Higgins, MD, MBA, a sports cardiologist at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. This is different than your heart rate, which is measured by the number of times your heart beats per minute. And unlike your heart rate, which you can calculate by counting your pulse, heart rate variability is measured at the doctor’s office with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) test that records the electrical activity of your heart.

When using the term variability, it refers to your heart beat’s ‘ability to shift throughout the day,’ as one’s heart rate is not meant to be the same, static speed; it changes depending on activities, emotions, and actions. A high HRV means that the body can efficiently change heart rate, depending on activity: intended to be a measure of the efficiency and performance of your cardiovascular system. Heart rate variability may also be a marker of the ways in which your body can handle stress, as a higher HRV communicates a better performance, whereas a lower HRV indicates that it would be difficult to ‘bounce back after a stressful situation.’

While age affects one’s HRV, being at an elevated risk for heart disease also affects it. Moreover, chronic stress, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol may impair functioning of this system, which leads to difficulties with heart rate and blood pressure–and ultimately HRV.

The best way to improve one’s HRV is exercise: even moderate workouts for 150 minutes per week. Biofeedback and meditation have also demonstrated usefulness in improving HRV, as deep & controlled breathing taps into the parasympathetic nervous system, causes one to destress and calm down.

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Cardio Killers

Heart disease and tobacco ranked with conflict and violence among the world’s biggest killers in 2016, while poor diets and mental disorders caused people the greatest ill health, a large international study has found.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, published on Friday in The Lancet medical journal, found that while life expectancy is increasing, so too are the years people live in poor health. The proportion of life spent being ill is higher in poor countries than in wealthy ones.

“Death is a powerful motivator, both for individuals and for countries, to address diseases that have been killing us at high rates. But we’ve been much less motivated to address issues leading to illnesses,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which led the study. He said a “triad of troubles” – obesity, conflict, and mental illness – is emerging as a “stubborn and persistent barrier to active and vigorous lifestyles”.

The IHME-led study, involving more than 2,500 researchers in around 130 countries, found that in 2016, poor diet was associated with nearly one in five deaths worldwide. Tobacco smoking killed 7.1 million people.

Diets low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, fish oils and high in salt were the most common risk factors, contributing to cases of obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol.

The study found that deaths from firearms, conflict and terrorism have increased globally, and that non-communicable, or chronic, diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes caused 72 percent of all deaths worldwide.

Heart disease was the leading cause of premature death in most regions and killed 9.48 million people globally in 2016. Mental illness was found to have a heavy toll on individuals and societies, with 1.1 billion people living with psychological or psychiatric disorders and substance abuse problems in 2016. Major depressive disorders ranked in the top 10 causes of ill health in all but four countries worldwide.

The GBD is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation global health charity and gives data estimates on some 330 diseases, causes of death and injuries in 195 countries and territories.

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Apple Cider Vinegar: More Than A Diet Trick?

While heart disease can be triggered by a poor diet, experts say apple cider vinegar may have positive benefits for certain cardiovascular risk factors, in addition to helping with weight loss.

Researchers believe that apple cider vinegar could have a protective effect on your heart. Consuming a few teaspoons before breakfast has become a health trend, due to claims that it aids weight loss, yet apple cider vinegar may also help boost heart health.

Research has suggested that it assists with lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which have been linked to increased risk of heart attacks.

What’s more, studies found it protects against LDL cholesterol oxidation – which could lead to heart disease – and can reduce blood pressure. “Several ‘risk factors’ for heart disease and strokes have been shown to be improved by apple cider vinegar consumption,” said Fleur Brown, a nutritionist and author of Beat Chronic Disease – The Nutrition Solution. “It contains the antioxidant chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to protect LDL cholesterol particles from becoming oxidised, a crucial step in the prevention of heart disease process.

Additionally, there are also some studies showing that the vinegar can help reduce blood pressure. It appears to have the ability break down fat deposits in the body, improve circulation and thus lower pressure in the arteries. High insulin and blood glucose levels are also thought to contribute to heart disease, and apple cider vinegar can reduce both.

This is particularly important since diabetics are at an increased risk of heart disease as they have raised insulin and blood glucose levels., Additionally the knock-on effect of lowered levels of insulin is weight loss: being overweight can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, therefore losing weight with the aid of apple cider vinegar can lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.”

Nevertheless, research done so far to support apple cider vinegar’s direct positive effects on the heart, such as a 2015 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research, have been conducted on animals. As yet, there have been no human studies, meaning we cannot know for certain that it would yield the same results.

“There is a limited amount of research to show that apple cider vinegar may help to lower blood cholesterol levels and so be good for the heart but most of this research comes from studies in rats, so we need to be careful about extrapolating to humans,” explained Dr Sarah Schenker, a registered dietician and nutritionist. What has been shown in humans is that apple cider vinegar can help with weight loss – which can also help heart health. “Several human studies suggest that apple cider vinegar can increase satiety, making you feel fuller more quickly,” said Brown.

Human studies have demonstrated that drinking apple cider vinegar along with high-carb meals can increase feelings of fullness and make people eat 200 to 275 fewer calories for the rest of the day. Reducing calories on a daily basis can result in reduced weight over time, and reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease.”

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Pick Up the Pace!

According to a new study, healthy adults who are slow walkers are twice as likely to die from heart disease as those of us who walk at a more brisk pace. “This suggests that habitual walking pace is an independent predictor of heart-related death,” lead author Professor Tom Yates said.

Researchers from the University of Leicester followed 420,727 people over a period of six years to assess death rates.  Those who were slow walkers were found to be between 1.8 and 2.4 times more likely to die of heart disease – which is the world’s biggest killer – during the timeframe.

The researchers took into account risk factors including smoking, BMI and diet, but found that the conclusion still applied to both men and women. However, it was actually adults with the lowest BMIs who were found to have the highest risk from walking slowly.

The study’s authors believe that walking pace is an indicator of overall health and fitness as it’s strongly linked to exercise tolerance.

“Self-reported walking pace could be used to identify individuals who have low physical fitness and high mortality risk,” said Professor Yates. The researchers also looked into whether walking pace could be linked to cancer, but no connection was found.

This is not the first study to link heart disease and walking pace though – research from 2009 concluded that walking slowly is “strongly associated” with an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke.

Heart disease is often a result of high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol, and is the leading cause of death in the US, second only to dementia in the UK.

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