Exercise for your heart's health, too

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According to the American Heart Association, approximately one out of every three deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease and stroke. Every year an estimated 785,000 Americans will have their first heart attack.

Fortunately, we can change that. It is estimated that 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with lifestyle modifications.

Most of us exercise with the intention of strengthening and toning specific muscles but forget that we need to train our most important muscle, the heart. The heart is responsible for pumping blood and transferring oxygen and nutrients to the cells in the body for proper functioning.

According to the Harvard Medical School, "When the body first detects that it's not getting an adequate blood supply, it tries to compensate. Stress hormones rise, pushing the heart to beat faster and harder. Blood vessels narrow in an effort to keep blood pressure stable. To keep blood flowing to the heart and brain, the body diverts blood away from less-important tissues. The body also retains sodium and fluid in an attempt to supplement the volume of circulating blood."

More simply put, heart disease, known as the silent killer, restricts blood flow to the heart often because of plaque buildup in the arteries. While chest tightness is the most common symptom, back pain, fatigue and rapid heartbeat are also recognized symptoms of the disease.

However, more and more heart events are occurring without any of the typical presenting symptoms or family history of heart disease. Often, blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are normal, making it difficult to understand that someone who looks healthy and doesn't display the typical risk factors may be having a heart attack.

Research claims that the diet is one of the most important factors in preventing heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating more fruits and vegetables because they help improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels and limiting alcohol consumption and foods high in saturated fats. It isn't necessary to avoid fats altogether; the heart needs healthy fats that come from avocados, nuts, seeds and oils.

There is no guarantee that you will never experience a heart event, no matter what you do. But by leading a healthy lifestyle, not only may you reduce your risk, but you may also improve your chances of a faster, better recovery if you are already in good health.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.