Fun and Fitness: Get heart smart

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Cardiovascular disease has become the leading cause of death in Canada. Smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides have been linked directly to heart problems.

High blood cholesterol levels increase the likelihood that the fat will be deposited as plaque on the inner surface of arterial walls. As these deposits increase, the artery narrows, contributing to an increase in blood pressure. To compensate, the heart must work harder to pump the same volume of blood through the narrower arteries. When the coronary arteries of the heart itself are affected by plaque, the harder-working heart receives less oxygen, thus increasing the risk of a heart attack.

Plaque also contributes to "hardening" of the arteries or atherosclerosis. This loss of flexibility in arterial walls elevates blood pressure, putting the heart at additional risk for problems — just when you thought the narrowing of the arteries was enough of a health obstacle already!

If you have high cholesterol, you need to set goals for the short term and the long term. Your short-term goal should be to establish a program that includes a diet low in saturated fat and a regular exercise program to raise your fitness level and help reduce body fat. If necessary, medications can help you achieve this.

Reducing blood cholesterol and triglycerides is essential to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is a term that encompasses a number of conditions that affect the heart and the blood vessels. Narrowing and hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure are just a few examples of such conditions.

Long-term goals should include lowering cholesterol, reducing body weight to target levels and maintaining them for life through dietary adjustments and regular exercise without having a dependence on medication, if possible. Let's maintain wide-open passageways through our arteries just as the good Lord intended!