Don't Forget Your Most Important
Muscle: Your Heart
By Joe Decker
Many of us work out to target
a specific part of our body. We want six-pack abs, bigger biceps or a
firmer bum. We all want to look good on the outside.
Unfortunately, many of us
overlook what’s on the inside, forgetting our
body’s most important muscle: the heart. It’s an
absolutely amazing machine and, unlike muscles that we see in the
mirror, the heart never gets a break. Even while we sleep and our
bodies are at rest, the heart is the one muscle that keeps on going and
going. It’s our body’s Energizer Bunny.
The heart exercises when you
do, delivering oxygen-rich blood to the other muscles as you intensify
your workout. But maintaining a healthy heart demands more than just
solid cardio training. Coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke
accounted for more American deaths in 2004 than all forms of cancer
combined. And the leading cause of CHD and stroke is atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is what our
parents and grandparents used to call hardening of the arteries. It
involves the gradual deposit of fatty substances called plaque along
the inside of our arteries, which carries blood from the heart to the
rest of the body. As plaque builds up over the years, it can hinder the
blood supply to one or more parts of the body.
If that happens in your
brain, for example, you’re at a high risk of having a stroke.
If blood flow to your arms or legs becomes limited, you could face
anything from numbness and pain to tissue death and gangrene. And if
you’re a man, there’s another part of the body to
worry about: Atherosclerosis is a leading cause of erectile
dysfunction. In fact, a study found that over 60 percent of men
who’d suffered heart attacks had erectile dysfunction before
they knew they had cardiovascular disease, according to the Mayo
Yet only about half of
Americans understand how dangerous atherosclerosis really is, according
to a recent Harris survey. Part of the reason is that most people
don’t experience any symptoms until it’s too late.
Heart attacks kill 600,000 Americans every year.
That’s the bad
news. The good news is that atherosclerosis is also highly preventable,
and there are some common sense steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Step One –
A great starting point is
getting up off the couch and engaging in regular physical activity.
While it may be tempting to just dive into a new workout routine, you
should always check with your doctor to make sure your training plan is
right for your current medical condition.
Depending on your personal
situation and general health, your doctor might recommend a program
specifically geared to weight loss, building muscle mass or improving
Step Two –
Lifestyle changes can be
difficult because they often involve changing or eliminating certain
things we really enjoy. I love Mexican food, but I also know that if I
eat too much of it, I could start having a weight problem.
There are other lifestyle
changes you can make to reduce your risk of atherosclerosis. Quitting
smoking is always in season, of course.
Another important step is to
keep an eye on your LDL cholesterol. This is the "bad" cholesterol that
can result in more plaque deposits in your arteries. Keeping LDL at low
levels is a great way to keep yourself healthy.
Step Three –
Talk to your Doctor
Sometimes, you need a little
more than diet or exercise to maintain proper heart health. Sometimes
it’s genetic and there is not a lot you can do about it. In
those cases, there are a number of medications you can discuss with
your doctor that can slow down the process of hardening arteries.
A simple aspirin can reduce
the chance of blood clots formed by platelets that can clump together
in the bloodstream. Some statins have even been shown to slow the
progression of atherosclerosis. There also are anticoagulants like
heparin or warfarin that can thin your blood, thereby helping prevent
Remember: There is no magic
bullet when it comes to keeping your heart muscle and cardiovascular
system in good shape. A combination of appropriate lifestyle changes
and talking with your doctor about diet, exercise and the use of
medications can put you – and keep you – on the
road to maintaining a strong and healthy heart.
For more information about
heart health, visit www.usagainstathero.com or the American Heart
Association at www.americanheart.org.
Note: Joe Decker is recognized as "The World’s
Fittest Man" because he is an ultra-endurance
power athlete, renowned fitness trainer, motivational author and
speaker who has helped thousands of women, men,
children and seniors get into shape and lose weight.
Once overweight and
Joe transformed his body and his life through an amazing journey
In 2000, Joe broke the Guinness World Records®
24-hour Physical Fitness
Challenge to help inspire and motivate people to get fit.
He recently authored
the book, The World’s
Fittest You, which outlines how anyone can
get on the road to a lifetime of physical fitness
with hard work and discipline.