Posts Tagged ‘heart health’

These days, many of us are up at the crack of dawn and work longer hours than our bodies (and minds) would like. This can result in an afternoon energy lull. As the workday drags on many people feel the need for something to increase their energy and mental capacity, often reaching for a cup of coffee or other liquid stimulant.

Coffee is by far one of the most popular drinks across Canada. Although plenty of controversial research exists on coffee consumption and its health benefits compared to its negative effects, we love our java!

From the research I have uncovered, 1 cup of brewed coffee has 80-135mg of caffeine; 300mg per day is considered within health standards or safe for the average person. Although coffee does have some health benefits, the list of negative side effects are pretty astonishing: not only is it very addictive, but can cause heartburn, interfere with iron absorption, and also decreases the natural good bacteria in the intestine (not enough good bacteria can cause health implications long term). Coffee alone is not always the culprit, but the sugar and cream we add to it, also adds to our already expanding waistlines! If you can’t quit the habit completely, resist having more than two cups a day.

I can honestly say, I do enjoy an almond milk latte once in a while but I do my best to avoid highly caffeinated beverages; the initial boost is great but the crash that comes a few hours later forces me to reconsider. Over the years, I have found and enjoyed several effective, healthy stimulating beverages that both the sports enthusiast and the habitual caffeine consumer may find enjoyable. Not only do these alternatives offer long term energy but they also boast numerous health benefits! I would like to share a few of these with you.

One of the most highly consumed electrolyte replenishment drinks is Gatorade. For those of you who are not in the habit of reading food labels, Gatorade contains nothing but sugar, salt, water, artificial flavouring and food colouring. Why would you want to put artificial dyes and flavours into your body? Take Emergen-C’s for example: per packet Emergen-C’s contain 24 nutrients, 7 B vitamins, 1000mg of Vitamin C and half the amount of sugar that exists in a bottle of Gatorade. A better choice, hands down!

Two great tasting and nutrient-rich alternatives to coffee are Matcha Green Tea and Yerba Mate. Yerba Mate is a Spanish tea brewed by placing loose tea leaves into hot water and steeping until the desired taste and potency is reached. Like Matcha, Yerba Mate helps to lower bad cholesterol levels, decrease ones risk for cardiovascular related diseases and is a natural source of energy. To top it all off, neither of these beverages are addicting, both are brewed from natural herbs and tea leaves, and provide the body with a steady supply of energy whereby the our energy peaks, and gradually decreases without the extreme low often felt after over consumption of coffee.

Matcha Green Tea is of Japanese heritage and arrives in Canada as a finely milled powder. Matcha differs from green tea in that it has 1300 times greater the amount of antioxidants than green tea alone…pretty amazing! It also helps to lower bad cholesterol when consumed on a regular basis. Matcha powder can also be used in baking or as a natural food colouring agent.

And what about Red Bull, the one that “gives you wings”? It is not only highly addictive and raises your blood pressure, but over-stimulates the central nervous system and oh yeah, tastes disgusting. Don’t go there.

Lastly, those of you in search of a great pre-workout stimulator without extreme heart-racing side effects should try Vega’s Pre-workout Energizer. It’s loaded with 13 plant-based performance-enhancing stimulants, including Yerba Mate, and comes in two yummy fruit flavours: Lemon-lime and Acai Berry. It’s one of the best natural energizers on the market today. Think long term health, and your body will thank you.

I hope the next time you’re in need of a boost you will try some natural alternatives to the typical choices of coffee and soda pop. Your feedback is always welcome…if anyone has an interesting energy drink to share please do!


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Most of us lead such busy, fast-paced lives that we have trouble finding the time for regular exercise, myself included. Most people want results fast, while exerting the least amount of effort. Although no quick fixes actually exist in terms of healthy weight loss, interval training is a great way to get in shape when your time is limited.

Taking 30 – 45 minutes, 3 – 5 days a week to raise our heart rate through exercise is extremely important. Exercise is helpful for stress reduction, improved self-esteem, improved body image, and provides so many other health-related benefits. That being said, interval training is a great way to obtain all the benefits of cardiovascular exercise and strength training in the least amount of time. Interval training involves quick bursts of cardiovascular exercise (usually five minutes or less), followed by strength training exercises (usually two sets of two different exercises), followed again by cardiovascular exercise; done repeatedly over the course of 30 – 45 minutes.

Some facilities offer something called circuit training and this is essentially the same thing as interval training. There are quite a few gyms nowadays that have a sectioned off area with weight training machines specifically designed for circuit training. The goal is to work all the major muscle groups quickly, while allowing you to do cardiovascular activities like skipping, stair running, burpies, jumping jacks, etc… in close proximity to maximize both time and caloric burn.

Not only does this type of exercise work your entire body but it’s also easy to do anytime, anywhere. Even though I like going to gym to workout, on occasion I must find the motivation to work out at home. I have a set of exercise bands with handles, 10 and 15 pound free weights, a skipping rope, mini-trampoline and exercise ball. It honestly does not take much to get started- with a few pieces of relatively cheap equipment you’re on your way.

In-home circuit training options:
all weight training exercises use stretch tubing, free weights or body weight

* 5 minute warm-up (walking or light jogging)
* 5 minutes (skipping, jumping jacks, rebounding, burpies, running, stair climbing)
* 3-5 minutes (bicep curls, tricep kickbacks)
* 5 minutes (repeat cardio)
* 3-5 minutes (push-ups, standing row)
* 5 minutes (repeat cardio)
* 3-5 minutes (shoulder press, squats)
* 5 minutes (repeat cardio)
* 3-5 minutes (lunges, abs)

Interval training can also be used as part of your cardiovascular workout on its own. Whether you like the treadmill, outdoor running, speed walking, biking or the stair master, try varying your speed, level of difficulty and/or incline every few minutes. By doing this you burn more calories, get a better workout overall, and force your body’s cardiovascular system to work at different rates, making it stronger.

If anything, finding the time to do interval training 3-5 days a week is the perfect way to keep you limber and in shape. Your body will love you for it and you could start to love your body!

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I decided to write this week’s entry on heart disease because unfortunately it touches home.  My father’s side of the family has a long history of heart related diseases.  Believe it or not, cardiovascular disease or heart disease is the number one cause of death in North America, above and beyond cancer.  Cardiovascular disease, also known as CVD, is a class of disease that relate to the blood, arteries and heart.  Although family history plays a role in the development of CVD, so does age.  Men over 45 and women over 55 are at the highest risk.

There are four common forms of cardiovascular diseases: arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension.  I will explain in the easiest terms possible the characteristics of each one.

Arteriosclerosis – This form of CVD is not a single disease but a group of diseases.  It’s characterized by narrowing or “hardening” of the arteries.  Atherosclerosis is a special type of arteriosclerosis that results in a blockage of plaque (fatty deposit) on the inside of the blood vessel.  This plaque is typically composed of cholesterol, cellular debris, fibrin (a clotting material in the blood), and calcium.  This particular disease begins in childhood and symptoms appears later in life.  Over time the debris builds up in the arteries restricting blood flow to the heart, and in turn causing what is known as a heart attack.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) – Coronary artery disease is the result of artherosclerotic plaque that forms a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries.  The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen.  If the flow of oxygen to the heart is impaired this will result in chest pain known as angina pectoris.  CHD is generally brought on by physical activity or emotional stress.  If a coronary artery is blocked by 90-95% the result is a heart attack- also known as a myocardial infraction.  Blood clots form around the atherosclerotic plaque and eventually the blood flow cannot pass through that artery.  A heart attack is basically the death of the heart muscle.

Stroke – A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is reduced for a long period of time.  The main cause of a stroke is a blockage (due to atherosclerosis) in the arteries in the head or neck leading to the brain.  A stroke is similar to that of a heart attack in that it results in the death of brain cells. For best chances of recovery, medical treatment must be received within 2 hours of the stroke.

Hypertension – Hypertension is chronic high blood pressure.  High blood pressure (BP) occurs when the force exerted on the heart is higher than normal (referred to as the systolic blood pressure) or when the pressure of blood on the arterial wall is greater than normal (known as the diastolic blood pressure).  High blood pressure is generally a resting systolic BP of more than 140 mm Hg or a diastolic BP of 90 mm Hg also known as 140/90.  A normal healthy BP is 120/80.

The main factors that influence CVD are lack of physical activity, a diet high in sodium, red meat and dairy, obesity, chronic stress, family history, ethnicity (blacks have a greater risk than whites) and sex (men have a greater risk than women).  That’s why it’s so important to stay active, especially as we age, and maintain a diet low in sodium, cholesterol and fat to keep a healthy heart and body weight.

Get your blood pressure checked and take care of your heart!

This blog was written with the help of the text book “Total Fitness and Wellness” (Canadian Edition), 2006.

In next week’s entry I will discuss how to pick a good personal trainer… I will have just completed my 4 day intensive course to get my Personal Trainer Certificate.

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