Why a healthy heart is vital for your lungs, blood vessels
Remember that old ditty, “the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone”? It’s just as true for your lungs, heart and blood vessels: When you take steps to reduce the risk of disease in one area, it will have a positive impact on the other two.
“It’s like a chain effect; all good for your body,” explains Dr. Beno Sikand, an internal medicine specialist at Banner Health Center in Gilbert, Ariz.
People often associate cardiovascular health with just the heart, but it also involves the arteries, adds Dr. Sikand.
Cholesterol leads to plaque, which can lead to a stroke if formed in the brain or lead to circulation problems if in the arms and legs.
Our organs are interconnected, so if either the heart or lungs are not working, then the other will also be negatively impacted.
“Your heart will be strained if the lungs are not functioning, for instance, and that can cause other problems,” says Dr. Sikand.
Here’s how the interconnection among your heart, lungs and blood vessels works: Your heart is the central pump of your body, with blood vessels leading to and from it. Your lungs oxygenate your blood and send it through the vessels to your heart, which then pumps it off to the rest of your body.
After your body uses the blood, it goes back to the lungs via the blood vessels. Then, the process starts all over again. So if one of those parts is clogged, say with cholesterol-made plaque, then the others have to go into overdrive to get their jobs done.
What this interconnection also means is that anything you do to reduce your risk factors for heart disease also helps your lungs and your blood vessels.
And it doesn’t take long to see the results of implementing new routines. After just three to six months of risk-reducing behavior, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, you may see tangible health results from your efforts. Even an obese person, for example, will see positive effects from losing just 5 percent to 10 percent of his or her body weight.
“Don’t ever discount the little changes you make in life; it’s all leading up to a healthier you,” says Dr. Sikand.
Women’s risk of heart disease increases when they enter their 50s and experience the onset of menopause, although Dr. Sikand says that can be managed in most cases with proper diet and exercise.
Implementing healthy behaviors earlier in life can also help ward off some of that risk.
Dr. Sikand says some risk factors can be managed or changed, such as a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diabetes, blood pressure and high cholesterol, while others, unfortunately, you don’t have any control, such as age, genetic make-up or family history.
People don’t always take it seriously but it’s always a good idea to get a routine annual physical from an internist in addition to seeing your OB/GYN regularly.
Dr. Sikand says it’s critical to have that routine exam because then your doctor knows your medical history and any changes that are red flags.
Routine check-ups should include a fasting cholesterol test, blood pressure and bone density tests, as well as carotid artery screenings.
The most important thing you can do for your heart health is to quit smoking. Kicking the habit reduces your risk of heart disease and blood vessel disease, such as stroke or peripheral vascular disease in the legs, and it’s immediately good for your lungs.
You can also switch to a heart-healthy diet incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, along with adding regular exercise to your schedule, which will also help relieve stress. When these tactics alone are not sufficient for lowering disease risk, your physician may suggest medications, such as statins that lower cholesterol.
Take action against heart, blood vessel and lung disease:
- Exercise regularly, preferably for 30 minutes, at least four days a week
- Cut down on fats in your diet, especially saturated fat/trans-fatty acids
- Keep good fats in your diet such as those that come from fish, nuts, olives and avocados
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control
- Don’t smoke