Since February is heart month, it’s a good time to focus on relationships — not only interpersonal ones, but intimately personal ones. Here are three relationships you may not know much about that could be dramatically affecting your heart health.
RELATIONSHIP #1 Your Resting Heart Rate Reveals Health
According to Berkley University, California, your resting heart rate – the number of times your heart beats per minute when at rest – can tell a lot about how healthy you are. (Hint: most people have 60-80 beats, but it varies throughout the day.) Slower/fewer beats is better since a heart rate faster than necessary puts stress on blood vessels and heart. Those who are fitter, often because they do aerobic exercise, tend to have a lower resting heart rate because these activities strengthen the heart so it pumps more blood with each contraction/beat. Research now shows a link between faster resting heart rate and premature death, not even looking at fitness level, high blood pressure, unhealthy lifestyle, high cholesterol or weight. In fact, one study found that for every 10 beats over 50 beats/minute, the risk of death rose by 16% — so resting heart rate may be a better predictor of death from heart attack than cholesterol or blood pressure.
RELATIONSHIP #2 Sugar Affects your Heart
A study in Journal of the American Heart Association shows that sugar weakens and eventually damages the heart. The sugar molecule, called glucose 6-phosphate (G6P), decreases the function of the heart muscle, which could eventually lead to heart failure. We also know, of course, that eating too much sugar slowly erodes the ability of cells in your pancreas to make insulin. Your pancreas then works too hard, overcompensates, and boosts insulin levels too high. Over time, the pancreas is permanently damaged and insulin remains elevated. High sugar levels in your blood can cause changes that lead to hardening of blood vessels (atherosclerosis), and are associated with heart disease.
RELATIONSHIP #3 Your Immune System Creates Heart Disease
It’s interesting that many people who die from heart disease have a healthy diet, a healthy weight, and don’t smoke. Research is showing that the immune system could be the link to heart attack risk beyond the usual factors. Cholesterol in the plaque that builds up in arteries triggers the immune system to increase inflammation because it senses danger — its cells are sent to fight. This inflammation not only injures blood vessels, but causes the plaque that’s built up to be unstable and break off, leading to heart attacks and strokes. This, though, leads to the question, “Since your immune system is just trying to protect you, and research shows that cholesterol in plaque was also sent by the body to protect the lining of already damaged arteries, what is the original cause of damage?” One study in British Medical Journal, for example, showed increased heart attacks in people taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) painkillers.