Simple steps to a healthy heart

I was up at Wolf Creek ski skating on Alberta Meadow this past weekend and had an episode that gave me a scare. I felt dizzy, nauseous, winded and just plain fatigued. My first thought was, “I’m having a heart attack.”

After I allowed myself to catch my breath and calm my paranoia, it was easy to figure out what was going on. Three weeks of rather sedentary living at sea level was a major factor. But that single episode got me seriously thinking about my own heart health and the increased risk of heart disease I face as I grow older.

The good news about heart disease — the number one killer — is that a healthy heart is within everyone’s reach. You already know some of the rules: consume less fat. Eat fruits and vegetables. Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check. But there are more ways to boost heart health, including some you probably didn’t know.

Don’t skip breakfast. Most heart attacks occur between 7 a.m. and noon — possibly because the cells that help blood to clot, called platelets, are stickiest then. Eating breakfast appears to make platelets less sticky … and less likely to clump together and block a vital artery.

Cut back on sweets. Although sugar is not directly related to heart disease, cutting back limits empty calories in your diet and helps leave room for heart-friendly fiber and nutrients.

You may have heard about the “antioxidants” — vitamins C, E and beta carotene–– which appear to slow plaque formation in the arteries. Now there is evidence that folic acid (a B vitamin) and vitamin B6 and B12 may help prevent heart attacks. You will get all three Bs from a balanced diet.

Learn to lighten up. People who overreact to stressful situations appear more likely to have heart trouble. For example, in one study, people whose blood pressure and heart rate jumped the most during frustrating tests were also most likely to have reduced blood flow to the heart.

Ask your doctor about aspirin. Aspirin has been shown to protect the heart by preventing clot formation. But don’t start taking aspirin regularly without your doctor’s approval. Besides its many side effects — like stomach irritation –– long-term aspirin use may present other potential dangers, like risk of bleeding into the brain.

Quit smoking, if you do. Smoking doesn’t just affect your lungs. The fact is you will cut your risk of heart attack by 50-70 percent within five years if you quit and — amazingly — at that point, ex smokers have about the same risk of heart attack as people who never smoked.

Sedentary living — not just high cholesterol — is the single biggest factor in heart attack deaths. But, you don’t have to run marathons. Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity three times a week delivers the benefit of regular exercise. So walk briskly. Climb stairs. Play actively with kids. Live longer.