The heart is one of the most amazing organs of the body.
It works 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the day we are born to the day we die. It allows us to exercise and carries nutrients to all corners of the body. I like to think that I owe it to my heart to treat it right.
Your heart and entire cardiovascular system can be affected by many factors, but controlling your cholesterol level and maintaining adequate amounts of exercise are two ways to keep your heart healthy.
Many people have the misconception that all cholesterol is bad. However, there are both good and bad varieties of cholesterol, and it might even surprise you to know that cholesterol is actually essential for healthy body functions.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the blood that is incorporated in cell membranes and in some hormones. For the most part, the body produces the cholesterol it needs, and about one-fourth to one-third of the cholesterol in your blood comes from foods you eat, including poultry, dairy and meat products.
According to the American Heart Association, high cholesterol can be dangerous because it can contribute to atherosclerosis — a buildup of hard plaque inside the walls of arteries. This condition restricts the amount of blood that flows through that vessel.
Eventually, the buildup can lead to either a heart attack or stroke, and both can be life-threatening. The best way to know if you have high cholesterol levels is to have them checked by a doctor.
Preventing and correcting high cholesterol is usually manageable through simple lifestyle changes. First of all, the AHA recommends you avoid too many saturated and trans fats, which can contribute to the buildup of plaque in your arteries.
Of course, make sure to get enough exercise — at least 30 minutes each day on five or more days of every week.
In addition to reducing cholesterol levels, exercise can contribute to many important cardiovascular benefits. It can help the heart work more efficiently by increasing the amount of blood in every beat. This is evident in athletes because they have a reduced heart rate both during exercise and at rest. Aerobic exercise burns fats, and in turn, can reduce the high-blood pressure that puts a strain on many hearts.
With all this new knowledge, you must be anxious to start repaying your heart for all its hard work.
And trust me, your heart will thank you.
Sarah Hurd is a senior in kinesiology. She teaches aerobics classes at the LIFE Fitness Center at noon on Fridays. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.