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Lucky number 7? Omega-7s and your health

Your body makes omega-7 fatty acids, but will getting more from supplements be beneficial? Check out the new OPSS FAQ.

What are omega-7 fatty acids? And do omega-7 supplements convey the health benefits advertised?

Omega-7 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat. Omega-7s are considered non-essential fatty acids, which means your body can make enough omega-7s to function properly. In other words, you don’t need to get them from foods or supplements.

One of the most common forms of omega-7s, which is also used in supplements, is palmitoleic acid (not to be confused with palmitic acid, which is a saturated fat). Omega-7 supplements are marketed for health benefits such as heart and liver health, improved cholesterol levels, weight loss, glucose (blood sugar) metabolism, and immune support. Limited research has shown some benefits from palmitoleic acid supplementation, but most of the research has been done on animals and only for short test periods (less than four weeks). As a result, no recommended dose or source of palmitoleic acid exists, and there is not enough evidence to suggest that omega-7 supplements can improve heart health or health in general.

Have a (chocolate) heart

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
February is American Heart Month—a reminder to practice good nutrition habits to reduce your risk of heart disease. Could your “chocolate fix” help or hurt?

You probably know that fruit, vegetables, and olive oil are healthy foods for your heart, but what about chocolate? For hundreds of years, chocolate—more specifically cacao, the unprocessed cocoa bean—has been considered good for health.

Cocoa is in high in flavanols, plant compounds with antioxidant activity that can help prevent or delay damage caused by free radicals. These antioxidant-rich flavanols are linked to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some evidence has shown that cocoa can help lower blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and improve blood flow.

However, not all chocolate is created equal. In general, the less processing, the more flavanols. Pure, unprocessed cocoa has more flavanols than chocolate, which has sugar, fat, and other additives. Dark chocolate has more flavanols than milk chocolate and white chocolate. But eating enough chocolate products to reach the desired amount of flavanols could require hundreds or even thousands of calories. While all that chocolate may taste great, the extra sugar, fat, and calories are not heart healthy.

Enjoy a square of dark chocolate or a serving of cocoa as part of your day, but the jury’s still out on whether chocolate can really help your heart.

 

Eat smart for a healthy heart

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
February is American Heart Month. Show your heart some love, and follow these tips for heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. But making positive lifestyle choices, especially when it comes to food, can help keep your heart strong and healthy. Keep the following tips in mind whenever you eat out or cook at home:

  • Eat more fiber. Fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. High-fiber foods also contain minerals that help manage your blood pressure.
  • Choose your fats wisely. Liquid fats such as olive oil and canola oil are considered “heart healthy” fats, whereas solid fats such as butter and animal fat contribute to clogged arteries. Another fat that is good for your heart is omega-3 fatty acid, which is found in salmon and walnuts.
  • Monitor your sodium intake. Diets high in sodium put you at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Instead of using salt, try spices and herbs to season your food. Salt isn’t the only source of sodium though. Other foods high in sodium include canned soups and sauces, fast food, restaurant food, and deli meats.

A healthy eating plan is just one factor in reducing your risk for heart disease. For information on other ways to improve your heart health, visit healthfinder.gov.

Do mindful people have good hearts?

New research suggests that highly mindful people also engage in healthy habits that protect them from heart disease.

Being mindful means simply being extra aware, in a nonjudgmental way and in the present moment, of your physical and mental experiences, even during ordinary, everyday tasks. Mindfulness isn’t just a technique you can do or a skill you can learn. It can also refer to a way of being. In other words, some people work on becoming more mindful and others just are mindful.

Mind-body skills—including mindfulness—reduce stress and improve heart health. And mindfulness in particular (both the skills and the way of being) has become a hot topic. Much of mindfulness research has focused on medical problems, but scientists are just beginning to really understand its role in preventing heart disease.

One recent study looked at people who already tend to be mindful, so it’s hard to say that mindfulness causes the good things associated with it, but somehow they seem to be related. However, according to another study, when cardiac patients were trained to be more mindful, they made smarter decisions about nutrition and exercise.

People who already tend to be very mindful, also tend to:

  • Not smoke
  • Have less body fat
  • Have less glucose (sugar) in their blood
  • Exercise more frequently

There are a couple factors that impact how mindful you can be in the first place: 1) how in control you feel and 2) whether or not you feel depressed. When you feel in control of your life, you’re able to monitor your own behaviors and change what you’re doing. When you’re feeling down, you might run on “autopilot,” without tuning in to your body’s sensations or your thoughts.

Over time, research will tell us more about how mindfulness affects healthy behaviors and how healthy behaviors impacts mindfulness. In the meantime, there appear to be many benefits associated with training mindfulness if you don’t tend to be mindful already. 

Your Body Mass Index – know what it is

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
The Body Mass Index is an estimate of body fat—and a tool to help you evaluate your health status.

You may have heard about the Body Mass Index (BMI), but do you really know what it is? BMI is an indicator of body fat for most adults—a screening tool for possible health problems. BMI is calculated using weight and height, and depending on the number, the result is categorized into underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. The higher the BMI, the higher the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an adult BMI calculator, child and teen BMI calculator, and information for interpreting the numbers.

Think you know everything about cardio (aerobic) exercise?

Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise is a key component of health-related fitness and should be included in every balanced exercise program. Training results in a stronger, more efficient heart, which is essential to improve fitness and prevent disease.

Reports estimate that one of every four deaths is attributed to heart disease. Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) activities such as jogging, cycling, and swimming directly improve the function of the heart, which decreases the risk of coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, and type II diabetes. Aerobic fitness is important enough that all active-duty service members must complete an aerobic fitness assessment, such as a maximal effort timed run, as part of their annual physical fitness test.

To delve a little deeper about the changes your heart, lungs, and blood vessels undergo when you improve your aerobic fitness, read on. One important change that occurs is that your heart’s “stroke volume”—the amount of blood the heart pumps out with each beat—increases. This comes from an increase in your heart’s strength and ability to hold a greater amount of blood. This in turn reduces your heart rate (HR) both at rest and at all levels of exercise. In fact, with consistent training, your resting HR could likely decrease as much as eight to10 beats per minute. That’s about 5 million fewer heartbeats in a year! Simply put, aerobic training means your heart has to do less work to get your job done.

Changes also occur to your blood and blood vessels with aerobic fitness. Your blood vessels increase in diameter and are better able to expand and constrict. This allows blood to move through your blood vessels with less resistance, reducing your blood pressure. And what happens to your blood? The levels of plasma (the liquid portion of the blood), red blood cells, and hemoglobin all increase, which means that your blood can carry more oxygen.

Altogether, the physiological changes mentioned here should make it easy to see why aerobic exercise is so important. If you want to learn more about how to get started improving your cardiorespiratory health through exercise, visit these Performance Strategies from HPRC.

Make a cardio comeback for optimal performance

Cardiovascular endurance is important for your everyday activities as well as more important military duties and tasks, but you need to use it or you’ll lose it! HPRC offers ideas on how to get it back.

Deployments, injuries, transitions—just a few of the many things that can interfere with your normal exercise routine. Too long a break and your cardiovascular—or aerobic—fitness may suffer. For optimal performance, however, getting your heart and lungs back in action is critical. If you’ve been away from your routine for a while, start slowly and gradually increase intensity and duration. Be patient and stick with a routine, even on days you don’t feel like it. Mix up your routine when you’re able with different types of aerobic exercise such as biking, running, swimming, and rowing. For help planning your comeback, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Rebuilding Cardiovascular Fitness. If you’d like to learn more about aerobic conditioning specifically for the PRT/PFT, read part 1of our training series.

The electrocardiogram (ECG): Matters of the heart

Filed under: Athletes, ECG, Heart
An ECG screening could be part of pre-participation screenings in the future.

Are your high-school students gearing up to play a team sport? You might want to consider the pre-participation screening requirements and what’s on the horizon for future changes. The electrocardiogram—a test used to examine electrical impulses of the heart—has been used as a screening tool to identify cardiac problems. At the American Medical Society’s annual meeting, Dr. Francis O’Connor (Medical Director for the Consortium for Health and Military Performance, HPRC’s parent organization) recently presented an evaluation of recent recommendations from the European Society of Cardiology for physicians interpreting ECG test results of athletes. The accuracy of the interpretation is under scrutiny, as the results of ECGs can be tricky to interpret.

In the United States, athletes aren’t required to have an ECG screening prior to sports participation—but that might change in the future if it’s deemed that accurate readings of such screenings are reliable and might identify underlying heart abnormalities. For now, however, Dr. O’Connor noted, “identifying abnormal from normal is not as easy as it may seem.”

Is 10,000 steps/day enough?

For years, the question has been debated whether 10,000 steps a day are enough to result in health benefits.

Individuals who have incorporated the recommendation of 10,000 steps a day into their lives have seen positive changes in their health, including weight loss, lower blood pressure, decreased risk for diabetes, lower cholesterol, and better psychological health. Many organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend walking 10,000 steps—or approximately five miles—a day for optimal health. Having a goal of 10,000 steps will get you, your family, and friends moving more every day, which reduces health risks.

A pedometer is an easy way to start counting your steps! Turn it into a fun, inexpensive challenge for your family or colleagues—see who can get the most steps in a day or week. It might be harder than you think. Here are some tips from the American Heart Association to help you get to 10,000.

Walking 10,000 steps a day is just one of many strategies you can use to increase your health and wellness. Check out HPRC’s Family Fitness and Physical Fitness sections for more ideas.

Solid fats vs. oils

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Solid fats vs. oils can make a difference in the overall makeup of a healthy diet, and choosing unsaturated oils can help lower blood cholesterol.

Solid fats are solid at room temperature, come mainly from animal products, and are high in saturated or trans fats. Examples are butter, milk fat, cream, stick margarine, shortening, and beef, chicken, and pork fat. Some saturated fats increase blood cholesterol levels in the body. Oils are liquid at room temperature, and come from many different plants, and are good sources of heart healthy unsaturated fats. Examples are olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and peanut oil. Coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are high in saturated fats and are considered solid fats. When using fats, replacing solid fats with unsaturated oils will provide essential nutrients to the diet and help lower blood cholesterol levels. Read about food preparation to promote health for more information.

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