Posts Tagged ‘heart disease’

The Benefits of Tai Chi: Strong Body, Healthy Heart

If you have heart disease, you may want to find a physical activity that you can easily maintain.

The slow-paced “meditation in motion” of Tai Chi may be just what the doctor ordered.TaiChi older

Based on the existing evidence, Tai Chi is a promising addition to regular heart care.

Cardiac rehabilitation programs are, unfortunately, underused.

“Tai Chi may be a good option for those unable or unwilling to engage in other forms of physical activity, or as a bridge to more rigorous exercise programs in frail patients,” says Peter Wayne, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the director of research for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, jointly based at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“If your doctor says you have borderline high blood pressure and you are not certain you want to begin drug therapy, a non-pharmacological approach such as Tai Chi may be a way to keep your blood pressure in check.

If you have established high blood pressure and find it difficult to engage in a regular exercise regimen, again, think about using Tai Chi to aid the treatment program your doctor has designed for you.”

Regular physical activity, including Tai Chi, has beneficial effects on many risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and pre-diabetes, says Ruth E. Taylor-Piliae, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation nurse faculty scholar alumna at the University of Arizona’s College of Nursing in Phoenix, where she conducts Tai Chi research.

“Regular physical activity promotes weight reduction, which can help reduce high blood pressure.

Exercise can lower total LDL, or “bad”, cholesterol levels, as well as raise HDL, or “good”, cholesterol levels,” she says.

“Among those with pre-diabetes, regular exercise can aid the body’s ability to use insulin to control blood glucose levels.”

Importantly, all studies to date suggest that Tai Chi may be safe for heart patients.

It may offer you additional options, whether in addition to a formal cardiac rehab program, as a part of maintenance therapy or as an exercise alternative.

9 Myths about Women’s Heart Disease

Some 6.5 million American women suffer from heart disease, making it the leading cause of death among women of all ages.

Since February is American Heart Month I thought I’d post this list from Leslie Cho, MD, Cleveland Clinic Cardiologist and Director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Center, of 9 common myths about women and heart disease:

9 Myths about Women’s Heart Disease

o Myth #1: Vitamins C and D help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Neither supplement has been proven effective when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease.

o Myth #2: Fish oils help reduce cholesterol.

Fish oil only lowers triglyceride levels at high doses, which can increase HDL, known as “good” cholesterol.

o Myth #3: Women have higher cholesterol than men.

Prior to menopause, women tend to have lower cholesterol than men and a similar cholesterol level following menopause.

o Myth #4: Statins do not help women.

Statins are effective in the treatment and prevention of coronary heart disease in both men and women.

o Myth #5: Hormone replacement therapy helps with heart disease.

Postmenopausal women should not take estrogen to try to prevent heart disease.

Hormonal replacement therapy actually increases the likelihood of heart attack and death from heart disease in older women and those more than 10 years from menopause.

However, it poses little to no risk when used for short periods (6 months) by women.

o Myth #6: You don’t need to exercise if you are thin.

If you don’t exercise regularly, you increase your risk of developing coronary heart disease, regardless of your physique.

o Myth #7: You need to start getting check-ups at the age of 50.

The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association recommend that all people have their cholesterol checked at age 20 and have routine cholesterol tests every five years following their first check-up.

For those with heart disease risk factors, the ACC and AHA recommend annual cholesterol checks.

Also, all people 35 and older should have their blood pressure checked.

Individuals with a family history of hypertension should have their blood pressure check before age 35.

Blood pressure can easily be checked for free.

o Myth #8: Herbal supplements help.

There is no evidence that multivitamins and antioxidants prevent heart disease.

o Myth #9: Younger women do not need to worry about heart disease.

While heart problems usually occur later in life, risk begins to accumulate early.

By age 40, more than half of women have at least one risk factor.

Polycystic Ovaries Linked to Pregnancy Problems and Heart Disease

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of women not ovulating and can lead to fertility problems.

PCOS has also been linked to pregnancy problems and heart disease.

Women with the condition typically have small cysts around the edge of their ovaries.

Symptoms include irregular periods, problems with ovulation, weight gain, and excessive hair growth.

Women with PCOS are also more likely to have fertility treatment.

A new Swedish study just reported online in the British Medical Journal indicates that women with PCOS are at increased risk of pregnancy complications, regardless of whether they are undergoing fertility treatment.

The nationwide study on 3,787 births among women with PCOS found these women were 45% more likely to experience pre-eclampsia (pregnancy–induced high blood pressure) and were more than twice as likely to give birth prematurely or to develop diabetes while pregnant.

Fertility is not the only health consequence these women face, however.

PCOS has been associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading killer of women and men alike.

PCOS has been associated with increases in artery-clogging triglycerides (fats) and insulin resistance, which boosts the chances for diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease.

“Some women need intervention based on existing guidelines, either to control their blood sugar to head off diabetes, or reduce their cholesterol to moderate the risk of premature heart disease.

For the rest, it’s a matter of treating each woman based on their individual needs,” said Sarah Berga, MD, former Chair of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, at the “The Physiology of Cardiovascular Disease: Gender Disparities” conference held earlier this week at the University of Mississippi in Jackson.

“We know that PCOS puts these women at risk for CVD-related disease, but we do not yet understand the extent to which it does so.”

Experts recommend that women with PCOS be periodically screened for diabetes and treated for it if they meet certain formal criteria.

However, drug treatment to forestall diabetes has not been endorsed and it has not been established that giving women with PCOS metformin will delay or prevent diabetes.

Metformin is an oral drug used to manage diabetes, either alone or in combination with sulfonylureas or other agents.

Fertility experts often prescribe metformin to treat PCOS.

To identify whether an infertile woman who has PCOS will benefit from metformin, simple tests are performed to see whether she has insulin resistance, says Zev Rosenwaks, MD, director and physician-in-chief of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

“If she does, then I prescribe metformin,” says Dr. Rosenwaks.

“Over 2 to 3 weeks, she slowly builds up to the usual dose of 500 milligrams of metformin 3 times daily or 850 milligrams twice daily with meals.”

If the woman does not start ovulating regularly over the next 6 to 8 weeks, then he initiates treatment with the ovulation-stimulating drug clomiphene.

About three-quarters of women with PCOS who are not ovulating will ovulate on clomiphene at some dosing level, and about half will become pregnant.

School Intervention May Improve Kids’ Heart Health

Offer middle school students healthier cafeteria food, get them more gym class time, and teach them about making good health choices and they can reduce their risk of future heart disease.

So say the results of a new study presented today at American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2011 Scientific Sessions in Washington, D.C.

Over the past 4 years, researchers at the University of Michigan have collected information on nearly 600 middle schoolers who participated in Project Healthy Schools.

This school-based intervention program educated 6th graders about heart-healthy lifestyles in hopes of reducing their future risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The program’s five main goals for the kids were:

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
2. Make better beverage choices
3. Include at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week
4. Eat less fatty foods
5. Spend less time in front of the TV and computer

Students received classroom education, healthier cafeteria selections, and more opportunities for physical activity to meet these goals.

The researchers collected yearly follow-up data, including body mass index, lipid levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and self-evaluation of healthy eating, exercise habits, and other lifestyle behaviors.

After 4 years, the results show significant improvements in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (so-called “bad” cholesterol), and resting heart rates (an indicator of fitness level).

The wellness survey indicates that the students continued to make health-conscious decisions by eating more fruits and vegetables, participating in more organized physical activities, and spending less time in front of the TV and computer.

By improving overall cholesterol and LDL’s, choosing to eat healthier food, and participating in more physical activities, these children effectively decreased their risk of CV disease and diabetes, the researchers concluded.

“This 4-year school intervention in Ann Arbor, Mich., was designed to promote healthier lifestyle choices and it shows that programs like this could have long-term impact on obesity and other health risks,” said study co-author Elizabeth A. Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

The program, which is a coalition of the University of Michigan and local community and business organizations, was considered so successful that it’s now being expanded to about 20 middle schools in Michigan.

Just goes to show that simple lifestyle changes and a little education goes a long way to help kids stay healthy.

Tai Chi Good for the Heart

If you have heart failure and practice Tai Chi, you’ll feel better about your life, your mood will lift, and you’ll be more likely to keep on exercising.

Those are the results of the largest study of the effects of Tai Chi on heart failure, reported this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The multi-component nature of Tai Chi – the combination of physical exercise, stress reduction, and social support – along with its integration of multiple body systems makes it an ideal way to prevent and rehabilitate heart disease,” says one of the co-authors of the study, Peter Wayne, PhD. Director of Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Programs, Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center.

“Tai Chi can potentially prevent and aid the management of heart disease by providing a form of aerobic exercise, more efficient breathing, improved circulation, greater muscle strength, stress reduction, mood elevation, and encouragement of behavior changes.”

Heart failure is a particularly hard disease to live with due to the shortness of breath and low energy that results from the heart’s inability to pump enough blood. “Historically, patients with chronic systolic heart failure were considered too frail to exercise and, through the late 1980s, avoidance of physical activity was a standard recommendation,” writes the authors, led by Harvard’s Gloria Yeh, MD, MPH.

The Harvard researchers recruited 100 people with chronic heart failure and randomly assigned half of them to receive a 12-week Tai Chi program designed specifically for heart failure. The other half got a heart health education program.

The Tai Chi program involved some traditional warm-up exercises, including arm swinging, gentle stretches, breathing, and visualization techniques.

Then patients learned five simple movements adapted from Master Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Yang-style Tai Chi, which the Harvard researchers have subsequently used in other clinical trials, all funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The patients also received an instructional videotape, and were encouraged to practice Tai Chi at home at least 3 times a week.

After 12 weeks, the patients in the Tai Chi group showed greater improvements in quality of life, in feelings of well-being, and in the confidence to perform exercise-related activities, compared with the education group.

Importantly, more than three-quarters of the participants came to the Tai Chi classes and many continued to practice Tai Chi at home when the researchers checked up on them 6 months later.

“This tells us that Tai Chi is enjoyable and can be safely incorporated into regular activities, even if you have chronic heart disease,” says Wayne.