Stressed Out
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Your Heart Health Primer

It’s an American rock band with four decades of history.

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It’s a cute expression — a substitute for the word “love.”

It’s the dominant, or innermost part of something.

Most important, it’s what keeps you alive — your body’s command center, pumping life-sustaining blood through vessels, which will carry nutrients and oxygen to every cell of your body. Your heart beats 100,000 times a day and about 40 million times a year, totaling close to three billion beats over an average lifetime.

So, take care of it. Here’s what you need to know.

Your Heart Health Primer

10 Interesting Miscellaneous Heart Facts:

1. The higher your education, the lower your risk of heart disease.

2. A normal heart valve equals the size of about a half dollar.

3. The earliest heart pacemakers received their power source from wall sockets.

4. A developing fetus’ first heart cell beats at just four weeks.

5. The largest heart belongs to the blue whale — weighing in at more than 1,500 pounds.

6. If you clasp your hands together, that is about the size of your heart.

7. Your heart pumps 1.5 gallons of blood every minute.

8. You never hear about heart cancer because it’s very rare: Heart cells stop dividing early in life.

9. The average heartbeat of a woman outpaces a man’s by almost eight beats a minute. Not only that, women’s hearts weigh less: about eight ounces, as opposed to about 10 for men.

10. A heart has its own electrical supply — it will even continue beating when it’s out of the body.

10 Important Heart Health Facts:

1. Heart attack symptoms vary by sex: Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, back pain, jaw pain and nausea, than what’s thought of as the typical symptom: chest pain.

2. Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack.

3. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, affecting about one woman each minute. Yet only one in five women think it’s their biggest health threat.

4. More than four million women in the U.S. have cardiovascular disease.

5. 90 percent of women have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

6. Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women.

7. Choosing a healthy lifestyle goes far in preventing deaths – up to 330 fewer each day.

8. Since 1984, more women than men have lost their lives to heart disease.

9. Heart disease is responsible for one in four female deaths in the U.S. each year.

10. If you have diabetes, your risk of heart disease or stroke is two to four times greater than someone without diabetes.

10 Ways to Protect Your Heart:

1. Don’t smoke — and if you already do, quit! It has immediate affects in as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette.

2. Exercise. Aim for at least 2-1/2 hours of moderate physical activity each week.

3. Control your cholesterol. Having high levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. The “good” kind (HDL) helps clear your arteries of LDL. Lower your LDL with exercise, low-fat dairy, limiting saturated fat, trans fats, and red meats.

4. Manage your weight. Being overweight or obese greatly increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Maintaining a weight loss of as little as three to five percent of your body weight can lead to meaningful results.

5. Reduce your blood sugar. That’s because diabetes is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

6. Eat healthfully. Fruits, veggies, whole grains and other healthy choices helps decrease your risk of risk factors for heart disease, like diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and more.

7. Keep blood pressure within reasonable limits. It’s called the “silent killer” because it has no symptoms. High blood pressure, if uncontrolled, can damage your arteries and hurt your heart (among other things like your kidneys and brain.

8. Keep your teeth and gums healthy. Floss your teeth and brush your teeth: Some studies show that bacteria in your mouth can travel to your bloodstream, raising the level of C-reactive protein, which may increase your risk of heart disease or stroke.

9. Get enough sleep. People who slept less than six hours a night were almost twice at risk for stroke or heart attack that those who logged more than that. Adequate and restful sleep is essential for a healthy heart.

10. Avoid too much sitting. It can increase your risk of a blood clot, and can also put you at greater risk for cardiovascular events, according to research. 

Four Fabulous Ways to Fight Stress

What do you do when you’re feeling stressed?

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A. Eat too much
B. Drink too much
C. Sleep too little
D. Worry and obsess
E. Zone out in front of the TV
F. Procrastinate
G. Go shopping

Whether it’s one, two or all of the above, though some might feel good, none will help do much to relieve your stress (at least not in a constructive manner) — at least not permanently.

Four Fabulous Ways to Fight Stress

The number one thing you need to do? Relax. That goes a long way to reducing your stress symptoms. It can slow your heart rate, slow down your breathing, improve your mood and concentration, reduce fatigue, increase flow to your major muscles, reduce the activity of stress hormones and so much more.

Sure, easier said than done, you might be thinking. If I could relax, don’t you think I’d be doing it already?

Learning the basics is easy. Relaxation techniques also carry the benefit of being risk-free, costing little or nothing — and you can take them wherever you go.

For the ultimate benefit, use them along with other coping strategies, like positive thinking, humor, time-management, and surrounding yourself in the company of good friends and family.

Just remember — practice makes perfect. Hone your skills with some of these tried and true methods.

Deep Breathing. Call it what you will — a way to distract yourself or an excuse to lie on the couch — but simple, focused breathing increases the brain’s supply of oxygen, stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and result in a state of calmness and relaxation. We all know how to breathe, of course, but do you really know the best way to breathe? There are many ways, but here’s a quick one that takes just six seconds. It’s called the “quieting response” because that’s what it can do — shut off the stress that is flowing through your body.

1. Relax the tension in your shoulders by “smiling inwardly” using your eyes and mouth.

2. Take a deep breath in while imagining holes in the soles of your feet.

3. Visualize hot air moving through these holes, traveling slowly up your legs, passing through your abdomen and filling your lungs. As you do this, relax each muscle.

4. Exhale, then reverse what you visualized above; picture the hot air coming out of those same holes in your soles.

Visualization (Guided Imagery). There’s nothing better for reducing stress than getting away to your happy place. But travel is not always practical or possible. Take yourself on a visual journey to escape from your negative or stressful feelings, by conjuring up mental images of a calm, relaxing place. Get comfy, close your eyes, and let all your senses chime in — smell, sound, sight and even touch. You may not actually be relaxing on that fabulous sun-soaked Caribbean beach, but by imagining the feeling of the warmth of the sun, the sound of the waves and the smell of a salty beach, you might as well be.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Tight, tense muscles…hardly a scenario for relaxation; more a set-up for things like a migraine or backache. That’s why you need to loosen up your muscles, which have a way of reacting to stress with knots, spasms and painful contractions. This technique (also known as Jacobson relaxation) involves slowly tightening and relaxing various muscle groups. Though there are many ways to do this; one, recommended by the Mayo Clinic, involves beginning at your toes and progressing slowly to your neck and head; tense each muscle for a minimum of five seconds; then repeat.

To give the relaxation response a double whammy, try combining it with guided imagery and breathing exercises.

Meditation. There are so many varieties of this ancient Buddhist tradition. One thing people say is that they “can’t meditate.” Their mind wanders, or they squirm and quickly lose interest. Mindfulness Meditation, (MBSR) is a good one to get started with: it encourages you to observe those runaway thoughts as they drift through your consciousness. The goal? To simply be aware of them — don’t criticize them — and let them go, returning to the present moment.

The idea is not to quiet your mind, or to get yourself into a state of eternal calm, but rather to pay attention to the present moment, no judgment allowed. Here are some tips to get you situated on the road to a calmer self:


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