Heart Beat: February 2012
IMPROVING FITNESS MAY TRUMP WEIGHT LOSS IN REDUCING HEART RISKS
If you can improve your physical fitness levels, even if you don’t lose weight, you can lower your death risk. A study published in the Dec. 5, 2011 issue of Circulation found that over time, improvements in fitness correlated to lower risks of heart disease-related and stroke-related causes of death, as well as all causes of death. The lower risks held true whether the individual maintained the same weight or even gained some weight. Researchers say the study illustrates the risks of inactivity and should help reassure individuals who are active, but have trouble losing weight, that their dedication to exercise is helping protect against cardiovascular complications. Researchers cautioned, however, that this study included only men who were either of normal weight or who were overweight, but not obese. There was no indication that obese individuals would experience the same results. The researchers did suggest that normal-weight or overweight women would likely see the same risk reductions as the men in the study.
ANGIOTENSION RECEPTOR BLOCKERS MAY CUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE RISK
If you use angiotensin II-receptor blockers (ARBs) to control your blood pressure, as opposed to other anti-hypertensive agents, you may also be significantly reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and vascular dementia, according to a recent British study. Research published in the October issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that the risk of AD was 53 percent lower in older adults prescribed an ARB compared to similar adults using another blood pressure-lowering drug, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. It was unclear exactly why ARBs proved so beneficial, though researchers noted that earlier animal studies showed ARBs helped protect against nerve injury caused by blood vessel damage, and helped nerves recover from blood vessel damage. The researchers also stressed that this study underscored the widely held belief that hypertension is a risk factor for the development of AD.
FRUITS, VEGETABLES AND WHOLE GRAINS MAY REDUCE STROKE RISK
Women who eat an antioxidant-rich diet have fewer strokes, regardless of whether they had a history of cardiovascular disease, according to a study reported in the Dec. 1, 2011 issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. Women who eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains consumed important antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids and flavonoids in those foods. Antioxidants inhibit oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, which in turn, can help improve circulation and reduce the risk of blood clots—the cause of ischemic strokes.
MEDICARE TO COVER BEHAVIORAL THERAPY FOR OBESITY
In an attempt to address a growing health problem in the U.S. and reduce the numbers of heart attacks and strokes in the future, Medicare announced it will cover intensive behavioral therapy for obesity. An estimated one fourth to one third of all adult Americans are classified as obese. Behavioral therapy could include counseling, as well as nutrition and physical fitness education. Previous research has suggested that physician visits, counseling and online support can help obese individuals lose at least five percent of their body weight and keep it off over the long term.
SNOW SHOVELING PROVEN TO BE HEART ATTACK RISK
Because of the strenuous nature of snow shoveling and the cold temperatures in which the seasonal activity takes place, doctors have long urged anyone with heart disease risk factors to be careful when clearing their driveways of snow. But a recent study actually put a number on the heart attack risk associated with shoveling snow. The research, published in Clinical Research in Cardiology, found that an estimated seven percent of heart attack cases in northern climates during the winter could be linked to shoveling snow. Risk factors associated with shoveling-related heart attacks included family history of premature coronary artery disease and smoking. Taking four or more heart medications was found to have a protective effect against heart attacks occurring during or after strenuous activity in cold temperatures.