The path less traveled
There is an old saying that I have mentioned before but it's worth mentioning again. "Genetics may load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger." I would love to shake the hand of the person who coined this phrase but the author is unknown (and probably long gone.)
I have witnessed so many health issues that could have been prevented or at least slowed down by practicing common sense and a little self control. One of the most preventable and deadly diseases we face today is Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).
My grandfather died from a massive heart attack when he was only 47 years old. My husband's father died at 62 from the same fate. It is because of this that my husband and I are acutely fearful of the potential genetic bullet we're faced with but we are also concerned for our two children, but like the quote says, it's our lifestyle that ultimately determines the strength of this disease as well as most of the other diseases that can be passed on from one generation to the next.
This fear became all too real when my husband Tom was diagnosed with high blood pressure and an irregular heart beat when he was only 30 years old. The doctor informed him that his condition was because of genetics (not to mention the 5 pack-a-day smoking habit he gave up three years earlier) and that he would have to be on blood pressure medication for the rest of his life. Fast forward 12 years. Tom is no longer on blood pressure medication and is healthier than men 20 years younger than him.
Genetics may have laid out a path for Tom to follow but thankfully he chose to take the path less traveled. It wasn't easy, it wasn't overnight, but it was well worth it.
If you're wondering what my husband did to change his genetic fate, the answer may bore you. He started working out with me five days a week and he stopped eating out as often. He basically became aware of his own actions and their consequences. You can do the same thing!
Don't let someone tell you that your fate is sealed because it isn't. God gave us free will. Use your free will to make the right decisions. So what steps can you take to kick genetics right in the proverbial DNA so that CHD does not come calling your name?
First, what is CHD?
CHD is the clogging of blood vessels that feed the heart muscle and is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. Each year, more than 500,000 Americans die of heart attacks caused by CHD which is usually due to atherosclerosis. (Hardening of the arteries)
Here are 7 steps you can take to reduce your risk.
1. Don't smoke (or quit smoking now)
Nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure and constricts blood vessels.
The AHA reports that smokers have more than twice the risk of heart attack of nonsmokers.
Nonsmokers may be more susceptible to heart and vascular damage from second hand smoke than smokers even though they absorb much smaller does of the smoke's toxins.
After 5 smoke-free years, your risk is about half that of a smoker. After 10 smoke-free years, it will be the same as if you never smoked.
(Robbins, Powers and Burgess 448)
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
A person's weight at midlife (30 to 55 years) has the greatest influence on heart disease risk.
A healthy body mass index (BMI) is 19 to 24.9.
(Robbins, Powers and Burgess pp. 395-396)
Where do you weigh in?
To calculate your BMI
1. Multiply your body weight in pounds by 703
2. Divide that number by your height in inches
3. Divide that number by height one more time
(Robbins, Powers and Burgess pp. 395-396)
I am 5-foot-7 and weigh 130.
1. 130 X 703 = 91,390
2. 91,390 / 67 = 1,364.0
1,364 / 67 = 20.4 (My BMI is 20.4)
3. Maintain healthy blood pressure. Optimal is 115/76
Hypertension nearly triples Cardio Vascular Disease for men.
Hypertension nearly doubles Cardio Vascular Disease for women.
4. Maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels
Below 200 mg/dl = desirable
200-239 mg/dl = borderline high
240 mg/dl an above = High risk
You should also know your ratio of Total Cholesterol.
Divide the total cholesterol level by the HDL cholesterol level to find your ratio.
3.5:1 = Optimal
4:1 = low
5. Stay physically active
Only 25 % of Americans engage in physical activity at intensity levels recommended for fitness and health benefits.
Inactivity is a real killer. It affects just about everything: brain, heart, blood vessels, bones, liver, gut, sleep, anxiety, mood, self-esteem, and your body's ability to process sugar.
30 minutes of moderately intense exercise nearly every day is essential for significant health benefits.
Exercising for 20 to 60 minutes a day at a higher intensity level provides a higher level of fitness and health benefits.
(Robbins, Powers and Burgess pp 274-275)
6. Keep a close eye on your blood glucose levels
Diabetes seriously increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
About 75% of people with diabetes die of some form of heart, stroke, or blood vessel disease.
Diabetes affects cholesterol and triglyceride levels by producing a different kind of LDL (the bad cholesterol) that accelerates atherosclerosis.
7. Find healthy ways to reduce stress
Stress causes chemical wear and tear on the body by releasing stress hormones into the bloodstream.
We are not born to handle stress badly. It is learned behavior that can be unlearned.
(Robbins, Powers and Burgess pg 288)
You will also find links to the DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the American Heart Associations walking program.
Gwen Robbins, Debbie Powers, and Sharon Burgess. A Wellness Way of Life. Eight Edition. New York: NY, 2009
Judith E. Brown. (2008). Nutrition through the life cycle. Third edition,
Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth