Category Archives: Heart Health | Cardiac Rehab

Matcha: The Ultimate Health Drink ☘

Organic green matcha tea

If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to the usual shamrock-shaded green beer to show your St. Patrick’s Day spirit, try matcha. Matcha (pronounced “MA-cha”) is a finely ground green tea powder that dates back to a 1,000-year-old Japanese tea ceremony. Preparing and serving matcha is a formal art in Japan and the health benefits of this green elixir have been striking.

The Magic of Matcha

Researchers consider green tea the healthiest beverage you can drink. Its health benefits have been studied since the 1990s due to their strong correlation between long life and health in many Asian cultures. Extensive studies on green tea revealed that it provides significant protection against:

  • Cardiovascular disease heart disease (atherosclerosis)
  • Low density lipoproteins (LDLs – the “bad” cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke

Healthy, plaque-free blood vessels are good for your heart and what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. An active, working brain requires sufficient blood flow.

Catechin Polyphenols

What makes matcha so beneficial? Something called polyphenols. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants and green tea contains polyphenols classified as “catechins” (pronounced KAT’-eh-kins).

Catechin polyphenols are found in the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant that fight and may even prevent cell damage. Catechins are also found in red wine, chocolate, berries, and apples, but in smaller amounts compared to tea leaves.

Four types of tea come from the Camellia sinensis plant:

  • Black
  • Green
  • Oolong
  • White

Green tea undergoes much less processing than the other teas, so it contains more antioxidants as well as less caffeine. Specifically, these hand-picked green tea leaves are high in catechin polyphenols called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which is the most active and most studied of the polyphenols.

How to Drink It

Matcha is made from high quality leaves and is jewel green in color. When drinking matcha, in contrast to drinking steeped green tea, you are drinking the whole leaf and not just the brewed water from the leaves. Therefore, when drinking matcha, you’re consuming 10 times the antioxidants, i.e., the health benefits in one cup of matcha is equivalent to 10 cups of green tea.    Continue reading

Coconut Oil: Is It Healthy or Hype?

coconut-oil_adobestock_118994494

Not a day goes by that I’m not asked about the latest and greatest health benefits of coconut oil. Due to its “good” saturated fat, coconut oil is being promoted as a cure-all for heart disease, weight gain, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, and Alzheimer’s disease (to name just a few). But is coconut oil and its powerful medicinal properties all that it’s touted to be?

Saturated Fat

Coconut oil is a saturated fat. These types of fats are generally concentrated in animal products, but are also present in tropical plant-based oils. Saturated fats can increase your LDLs (“bad” cholesterol) and increase your risk of atherosclerotic plaques, coronary artery disease, and stroke. That fact alone should be enough to put coconut oil on the “No Go” list of any healthy eating plan.

The Skinny on Sat Fat

Saturated fats are stable fats, that is, they’re not as sensitive to heat and light like other oils. That’s why they are solid at room temperature, can withstand high cooking temperatures, and have a long shelf life. Here’s how coconut oil compares with the other artery busters.

  • Beef fat = 40% saturated fat
  • Lard = 40%
  • Butter = 64%
  • Coconut oil = 92%

It’s All In the Acid

Not all saturated fats are created equal. Oils are made up of different types of fatty acids and in different percentages which impact how they react in your body. For example, chocolate contains 60% saturated fat. Stearic acid is its most common saturated fat which is why chocolate raises your LDLs significantly less than butter.

On the other hand, coconut oil contains about 65% of its saturated fats from lauric acid. The lauric acid may be what’s responsible for raising your HDLs (“good” cholesterol). But… don’t run out and buy a gallon of it just yet unless you plan on rubbing it on your skin!    Continue reading

Whole Grains for Your Heart? Use the 5 to 1 Fiber Rule

Grain and cereal food selection in heart shaped porcelain bowls over lokta paper background. Green freekeh wheat in large dish with ears.

Ever since your doctor told you to start eating more fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (beans, split peas, chick peas, and lentils), you switched to eating whole wheat bread. You congratulated yourself on trading in (reluctantly) your soft white “wonder” for a 21-grain brick, but your new kind of loaf may not be as healthy and whole as you might think.

Why You Need More Dietary Fiber

There is accumulating evidence that eating more dietary fiber reduces your risk for:

• Type 2 diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease
• Certain cancers
• Weight gain
• Obesity
• Diverticular disease
• Functional constipation

According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, as your fiber intake goes up, your risk of metabolic syndrome goes down resulting in less inflammation and a drop in obesity risk. It was concluded that greater dietary fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease. (See ‘”Inflammation / Foods that Heal and Harm“)

It’s no surprise that another study concluded that for every additional 7 grams of fiber consumed, heart disease risk decreased by 9%. Seven grams of fiber really doesn’t equate to that much food. You can get 7 grams through a serving of whole grains plus beans or lentils (e.g., rice and beans), or a few servings of fruits and vegetables.

How Dietary Fiber Benefits Your Heart

The cardiovascular benefits of dietary fiber include:

  • Helps get rid of excess bile (reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol)
  • Reduces cholesterol production
  • Feeds our “good” bacteria
  • Changes our gut hormones
  • Promotes eating low-calorie-density foods
  • Increases satiety
  • Delays gastric emptying

These effects collectively help control your cholesterol, body weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure which all reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Also, per a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dietary fiber has been shown to reduce inflammation, specifically, C-reactive protein, a sensitive inflammatory marker that can predict chronic disease.

Eat More Whole Plant Foods

Consuming more dietary fiber means eating lots of whole plant foods, such as:

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Soluble fiber acts like a “cholesterol sponge”. Sources include:

  • Oats
  • Nuts
  • Seeds (especially flaxseeds)
  • Legumes
  • Most fruits

Sources of insoluble fiber, a.k.a. “Nature’s Broom”, help prevent constipation and include:

  • Whole wheat
  • Wheat bran
  • Brown rice
  • Other whole grains
  • Most vegetables

When shopping for “packaged” grain products, such as bread, crackers and ready-to-eat cereals, the first word in the ingredients list should be “whole”. However, the remaining ingredients might look like a bunch of chemicals, so how do you choose?

The “Five to One Fiber Rule”   

A more reliable strategy to identify a healthy whole grain food product is to   Continue reading

Heart Attack! First Aid Quiz

If you’re experiencing “chest pressure” or “chest pain”, aspirin is the BEST form of first aid. But all aspirins are not alike nor are all methods of taking aspirin alike. Take the lifesaving quiz below…

Why Aspirin

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), is permanent damage to the heart muscle. Most heart attacks develop when a cholesterol-laden plaque in a coronary artery ruptures. Plaque deposits are hard on the outside and when this outer shell ruptures (cracks), platelets rush to the area in an effort to ‘patch’ the ruptured area.

Platelets are disc-shaped particles in the blood that aid in clotting. A clot grows minute by minute! As a clot grows, it blocks an artery. When the artery is completely blocked, cardiac tissue dies from the lack of blood supply and you have a heart attack. But aspirin can help stop the platelets from forming a larger clot if you take the aspirin BEFORE the clot gets too big. Time is critical! Aspirin helps inhibit platelet activity.

heart-attack2_adobestock_70059927

QUIZ (3 questions):

1. Pick the METHOD that you think makes aspirin work the fastest*. That is, during a suspected heart attack, which of the following is the fastest way to reduce blood clot formation?

A. Swallow the aspirin with 4 oz. of water.
B. Chew the aspirin for 30 seconds, then swallow it.
C. Swallow the aspirin with 4 oz. Alka Seltzer.    Continue reading

Be Aware If You Passed Your Treadmill Stress Test

Having his heart's functions checked

When I first started working in cardiac rehabilitation as a new college grad, one of my Phase 3 cardiac rehab patients had a heart attack when he was only 35 years old. If that wasn’t unsettling enough, he had his heart attack the DAY AFTER he “passed” his treadmill test. Back then, I couldn’t understand how that could possibly happen, but I now know better.

How Sensitive Is Your Treadmill Test?

Here’s what you need to know. Currently, the exercise ECG is the most cost-effective first-line screening tool, but its accuracy relies on the ‘sensitivity’ of the test. Sensitivity refers to the percentage of cases in which exercise testing accurately identifies the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD). Unfortunately, the exercise ECG it is not 100% sensitive to detecting coronary artery disease. 

Per the American College of Sports Medicine, the current sensitivity for detecting CAD using the exercise stress test is only about 70%.  In other words, if you test 100 cardiac rehab patients with documented coronary artery disease, only 70 patients would show evidence of CAD per the stress ECG test. If you’re one of the 30 remaining patients, where does that leave you?

False Negatives

Well, don’t start your celebratory dance (or meal) just yet. It just means that you may fall in either of the following groups:

  1. You have a negative stress test. That is, you actually “passed” and show no signs of coronary artery disease.
  2. You have a false-negative finding. This means you’ve been given a negative stress test result (normal) where no CAD ‘appears’ to be present, but you actually have CAD.

The bottom line… a negative exercise ECG test is no guarantee that you do NOT have coronary artery disease (CAD) even if your cardiologist tells you, “Everything looks great! See you in a year.” So sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s the reality. Cardiac events that occur after a negative stress test happen all too often, but it’s not so perplexing to me anymore.

Causes of False-Negatives (Lower Sensitivity)

Stress test results are only as valuable as your performance, the technician’s monitoring, and the test interpretation. Here are some factors that may increase your chances of a false-negative finding:    Continue reading

Weight Train After Your Heart Attack and Live Longer

Man has heart attack

After your heart attack or some other “cardiac event”, such as a coronary artery bypass graft and/or stent placement, you may have received conflicting advice as to what level of activity is acceptable. Some of the things you may have heard are:

  • Don’t lift anything over 5 lbs.
  • Don’t lift anything over 10 lbs. “for a while”.
  • Don’t lift anything for a week.
  • Don’t drive more than 30 minutes.
  • Don’t “get exhausted” for a month.
  • Don’t exercise for a few weeks.
  • Don’t lift over 5 lbs. for a period of time — or ever.
  • Go back to whatever you were doing before.

These guidelines can be confusing and promote anxiety and inactivity. Physicians generally prescribe aerobic/endurance exercise, such as walking, to strengthen your cardiorespiratory system, but in order to return to activities of daily living (ADLs), resistance training is necessary to accomplish everyday tasks, such as:

  • Mowing the lawn
  • Vacuuming
  • Carrying your children, groceries, or suitcase
  • Loading and unloading the trunk of a car/truck
  • Bending over to pick up the newspaper or toys off the floor
  • Lifting your grandchildren
  • Placing or removing items from a high shelf
  • Closing the trunk of a car or van
  • Opening a heavy door (e.g., door of a car, building, refrigerator, freezer, or dishwasher)

Resistance training enables you to perform these daily tasks safely, independently and more efficiently. By having a stronger musculoskeletal system, you decrease the cardiac demands of daily activities and increase your endurance capacity for other activities. Strength training has also been shown to maintain and build stronger bones as well as slow or prevent bone loss. A strong structure will reduce your risk for developing other debilitating diseases (e.g., osteoporosis) and ultimately help you live a longer, stronger and happier life.

Grandparents And Grandson Playing Game Indoors TogetherMuscular strength and endurance are important to prevent falls and safely return to vocational and recreational activities as well as activities of daily living. Most people need to do some type of lifting, carrying, or pushing in their daily routine. Your body has nine (9) fundamental human movement patterns. The foundation of your workouts should develop these movements:    Continue reading

Fit Find | Ground Chia Seeds

Ground Chia SeedChia seeds? If you’re having sudden flashbacks of your old Chia Pet® from the 1980’s and you’re impulsively singing “Ch-ch-ch-chia!” right now, you’re probably not alone. Believe it or not, we’re talking about the same ‘chia’ but… instead of watching the seeds sprout into “animal fur”, we’re eating them!

Chia seeds, like flax seeds, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (2.3 grams ALA per two tablespoons). These omega-3’s increase the production of anti-inflammatory substances that help prevent “cell adhesion molecules” from causing plaque buildup in your arteries.

These little seeds also pack in a good amount of B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. They’re small (little ovals) and typically black in color. To receive the benefits of the fatty acids, they need to be hydrated before eating them. These seeds can soak up to 12 times their weight in liquid and when soaked, they form a gelatinous texture which make them an excellent binding agent in baking.

chia-seed-smoothie_adobestock_77942716_croppedThese nutritious seeds now come finely ground to a powder which make them easy to blend in your yogurt, cereal, smoothies, salads, and soups. And like ground flaxseeds, they’re great in baked goods too. Spectrum® Ground Chia Seeds have been cold milled. Since Omega-3 fats are sensitive to heat, the cold milling process is a plus. On that note, be sure to store your seeds in the freezer or refrigerator to extend their shelf life because these seeds are also sensitive to oxygen (air) and light. Oxidation will affect the nutritional value of the healthy fats as well as cause them to go rancid.

*I especially like the Spectrum brand for chia and flaxseeds. They are packed in a light protective pouch and sealed airtight which is probably why they contain more omega-3’s than other brands. NEVER buy your seeds from self-serve bins or barrels in the grocery store!

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: You can substitute ground chia seeds (or ground flaxseeds) for eggs in recipes if you’re a vegan — or like me, sometimes you’re just out of eggs! Simply mix 3 tablespoons of water with one tablespoon of ground chia seeds (3:1 ratio) for every large egg. After stirring together, let the mixture sit for five minutes, then add it to your recipe.

Why You Should Check the Color of Your Pee

Color of Pee_cropped

See the complete list of 11 colors here:  https://www.pinterest.com/karenowoc/fit-tips-quick-health-bites/

Urine comes in a variety of colors (and smells) which can say a lot about you. Check out this infographic from the Cleveland Clinic. Your pee color is a good barometer for your level of hydration. Be sure to drink enough water — especially if you exercise, the weather is warm or you’re sweating a lot from dreadful hot flashes!

Dehydration is a risk factor for painful kidney stones and low blood pressure (your blood loses volume) whereby your brain and muscles can’t get enough oxygen. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, try to drink 75 ounces of water per day which is a little more than 9 cups. Add exercise and you’ll need to drink even more.

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: If you’re not a water drinker,  “eat” your fluids by consuming a lot of ‘water-rich’ foods like fruits and vegetables.  Lettuce is 95% water, watermelon 92%, oranges 88%, and apples are 84% water. Also, soups made with lots of broth and veggies are an excellent way to get hydrated.

Fit Minute | The New Definition of Being Fit

Group running on treadmills

Being “fit” is no longer about how much time you spend working out, but how much time you spend sitting as well. A study by the American Cancer Society compared people who sat less than three hours per day with those that sat more than six hours per day. The results were quite dramatic.

If you’re physically active and sit more than 6 hours per day, you are:

  • 18% more likely to die if you’re a man.
  • 37% more likely to die if you’re a woman.

If you’re NOT physically active and sit more than 6 hours per day, you are:

  • 48% more likely to die if you’re a man.
  • 94% more likely to die if you’re a woman.

Over 123,000 individuals (53,440 men and 69,776 women) were studied and none had a history of cancer, heart attack, stroke, or emphysema or other lung disease at the start of the study.  Here are the results after 14 years:    Continue reading

Is Your Pet Allergy Linked to Heart Disease?

Pet allergiesYou finally give in to a family pet, but ever since you brought home Mr. Whiskers, your eyes are red and itchy, you’re sneezing and have a constant runny nose. You feel like you have a perpetual cold. Is being allergic to your pet a minor inconvenience or can it lead to something more serious?

How Prevalent Are Pet Allergies?

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), almost 62% of U.S. households have pets and more than 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs. Ten percent of pet owners are allergic to their pets and 25% of them decide to keep their pets.

Are You Allergic to Your Pet?

Some of the signs and symptoms of pet allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Itchy skin
  • Hives (hives on your face and chest are symptoms of a more severe allergy)
  • Skin reaction where your pet licks you
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing

Be aware that if you have asthma as well as a pet allergy, your symptoms could be especially serious.

What’s the Allergen?

If your pet causes any of the above allergic reactions or aggravates your asthma symptoms, your pet’s hair or fur is not to blame as many people seem to think. But keep in mind that pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens can collect in your pet’s hair and fur. The real culprits behind these allergic effects are the proteins found in your pet’s saliva, urine and dander (flakes of dead skin).

Dander, Dander Everywhere   

Continue reading