Heart Health: Part III – regeneration, genetics and supplements

heart health

Wear and tear, cell regeneration and impact on heart health

Most people pretty much accept the inevitable decline in heart health as they age, believing that the heart (just as the rest of the body) wears out with time.  It is almost expected that your heart, as you get older, will start changing for the worse – the cardiac muscle is expected to thicken (and weaken at the same time), arteries – to stiffen and overall cell regeneration process – to slow down.  The implied lack of exercise at an older age makes these processes accelerate even further.

This grim picture, however, doesn’t have to be your reality.

It is true that myocardium cells may not possess the same remarkable regenerative capacity as liver cells, for instance (although they do, of course, regenerate following normal cell death), but as long as you can prevent current cells from dying too quickly – you can extend the lifespan of the whole heart.  The rules we discussed in relation to overall aging prevention apply equally when trying to prevent premature aging of the heart.

As with most organs, aging of the heart means the loss of ability of myocardium cells to divide and replicate (at least, at a rate that surpasses the rate of normal cell death).   And the factors that drive this are the same as what we have previously discussed – excessive free radical damage, inflammation and muscle atrophy.  If you prevent these generally (by making slight adjustments to your lifestyle and diet) – you will keep your heart young, strong and healthy.

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Heart health: Part II – Heart rate, variability and food

checking for heart rate

Resting heart rate – slower is better

As your heart gets more efficient and stronger – it can pump more blood with each stroke (and, potentially, require less energy to do that).  Eventually, what this leads to is slower resting heart rate.  Remember, the heart rate is a product of the demand for oxygenated blood and your heart’s ability to satisfy that demand.  As this ability improves, the heart doesn’t need to beat as fast.

This is precisely where the benefit of exercise comes in.  Exercise not only strengthens the heart itself and makes it more efficient in accessing oxygen in the blood (by growing more mitochondria) – but it also triggers the growth of new mitochondria (as well as improvement in oxidative capacity of existing mitochondria) at the periphery (i.e. – within the target tissue).  All of that means that tissues in need of oxygen could now use less of it to satisfy the same demand for energy – which means your heart doesn’t need to beat as fast.

What benefits does slower heart rate have?  There may be a couple:

  • Slower heart rate means a bigger “buffer” between current and maximum heart rate to keep up with more demanding situations when the heart needs to beat faster. Remember – the maximum rate is a finite number for everyone – your heart can’t just beat faster and faster in response to the demand – because the heart itself needs oxygen from blood to perform the work. Faster heart rate means higher energy demand for the heart muscle itself – and at some point, the ability to fuel this process by oxygen delivered by the blood will be limited by the supply of that freshly oxygenated blood and the speed at which it is utilized within the aerobic metabolism pathways.  No available energy at any given moment means no ability to contract.  So a slower heart rate potentially means more energy-efficient heart and a higher capacity to increase that rate to address spontaneous demands for blood delivery;
  • As we have already mentioned, muscle contraction requires energy – which comes from oxidation of fat, glucose or ketone bodies. Cellular energy metabolism – while being absolutely essential for life – also generates several chemical and electrical by-products that, in large amounts, can be harmful.  For instance – we have already discussed positive hydrogen ions (H+) generated by muscle contraction that raise the acidity of the cell.  Also, cellular metabolism generates reactive oxygen species that are known to inflict damage to cell’s DNA and cause various disorders.  It follows, then, that less energy required for resting heart rate means less of such by-products – which, by the way, may contribute to the wear and tear and, as a result – the longevity of the heart itself.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that animals with generally slower heart rates live longer?

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Heart health: Part I – Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Health

heart disease prevention

What you need to know about heart disease, rate variability, effect of exercise, nutrition and more

What is the most dreaded disease of the modern world?  Most people would probably say: cancer.  Yet, cancer is by far not the most prevalent cause of death.  That place is actually firmly occupied by ischemic heart disease, according to statistics published by World Health Organization (WHO).

So it makes sense to try to do what you can to prevent being a part of this statistic.  The article below explores a few potential causes of heart disease, discusses risk factors (including some of those that are not well known) and preventive measures (including some unconventional but very effective ones).

What makes your heart beat

On average, your heart pumps about 7,200 liters of blood per day.  In an average lifetime, that equals about 2,628,000 liters (700,000 gallons) or about 2.5 billion contractions.  That’s a massive amount of work!

As with any muscle, to maintain the strength and pace of these contractions, two variables must be present – the constant availability of fuel and proper functioning metabolism that utilizes this fuel to produce electric energy required to contract the muscle.

The heart is generally considered as a substrate omnivore with the capacity to oxidize fatty acids, carbohydrates, ketone bodies, lactate and even amino acids, the preferred substrate being fatty acids.

That said – energy deficit is a key contributor to heart failure.  During high intensity exercise, for instance, the heart uses up to 90% of its oxidative capacity – so it has no excess capacity of energy generation over energy utilization.

Under these circumstances, it is very important that whatever oxidative capacity your heart does have for supplying energy to cover the immediate needs is utilized to the maximum – and that such capacity is increased to provide some buffer for more strenuous activities, should those take place.  Ninety percent of the heart’s energy requirement is met by mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, which is finely tuned to energy need on a “pay as you go” basis.  In fact, mitochondria (power plants of the cell) occupy more than 30% of the cardiac muscle cells’ volume.

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Working out but not losing weight? Here is how to avoid the biggest 10 gym training mistakes

Working out but not losing weight

If you are working out but not losing weight – it’s likely not because your genetics are, somehow, unique.  It’s more likely that you are making one or several of the biggest 10 gym training mistakes.

It’s true that you can lose weight without exercise – but, just as well, you can exercise and not lose weight.  So your training needs to be approached and planned the right way to properly complement your diet.  And it really isn’t rocket science or anything that requires some enormous willpower or anything else out of the ordinary.  The rules of the game are simple – and avoiding the 10 gym training mistakes below is even simpler if you take some time to identify them.

This is a complete waste of time – exercise should be structured and help you reach a specific goal.  Depending on that goal, the specifics may vary, but there at least should be a training protocol.  Of course, you can (and should) still engage in unstructured physical activity for fun (outdoor team games, hiking, climbing, swimming, etc.), but if you are going to the gym to meet a specific goal, make sure you do everything right to reach it.

Properly structured exercise has several benefits:

  1. You eliminate unnecessary time-wasters and reduce your gym time to the minimum, while getting more results;
  2. You actually reach your goals (and faster, too!) – whether those are to lose weight, gain strength or get ripped;
  3. And, as an added benefit, you do both while ensuring maximum safety – which, in turn, ensures consistent progress with no sudden throw backs and loss of traction due to unexpected injury.

So let’s discuss how to exercise properly by looking at the following 10 gym training mistakes people make in the gym that you can easily avoid.

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Why you cannot lose weight

cannot lose weight

Let me start with some bad news – you cannot lose weight by following most of today’s conventional advice around what makes the best exercise to lose weight.

Most exercise tips to lose weight these days focus on aerobics (often referred to as “cardio”) as the best way to tackle the problem.  They suggest that you should try walking to lose weight, endless running or any combination of demanding fitness activities that will have you sweating buckets and panting like a dog on a hot day.

The reality, however, is that – despite following that advice and engaging into endless jogging, elliptical machine training, Zumba and other “fun” activities – the majority of people cannot lose weight and keep it off.  You too might have tried some semi-esoteric “fat burning exercises” found in many glossy magazines or sweating buckets trying various DVD aerobic workouts – all to no avail.  But that’s not your fault – what you have been told so far might have all been very wrong – the reason why you cannot lose weight is because the best exercise to lose weight is not aerobic training.  This article will explain why – and will also teach you how to spend significantly LESS time exercising and get MORE results.

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Nutritional Ketosis, Part II – Ketogenic Diet in Weight Control and Sports

ketogenic diet - bacon-eggs-avocado

(Continued from Part I)

Ketogenic diet and weight loss

One of the primary benefits of ketogenic diet – and also the one that is easy to track – is improved body composition.  Once again, we are not interested in total “weight loss” per se – what we are interested in is reducing body fat, while maintaining lean muscle mass.  Both have profoundly positive effects on health, longevity and quality of life.

Why is ketogenic diet so effective for getting rid of body fat?  Why is it more effective than, say, “low-fat” or “low-calorie” diets, popularized and promoted in the last several decades and still prevailing in the minds of most dieters?

The dogmatic belief that “eating fat will make you fat” is very far from truth.  Not only restricting fat is not the preferred method of weight control (because fats maintain the integrity of your cells, serve as precursors to important hormones – including testosterone, which accelerated lean muscle synthesis and fat burn – and because restricting fats almost inevitably means increasing carbs if you don’t want to starve), but also – restricting fat does not prevent the dreaded cardiovascular disease (because quality fat rarely causes one to begin with) – quite the contrary.

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Calories and why counting them is not a good idea

counting calories

One of the most frequent questions I get is something along the lines of: “I am only eating 1000 calories per day, which is far less than my calculated number of calories to maintain weight, how come I’m not getting slimmer?!”

It appears that everyone has been conditioned to think in terms of calories all the time, when evaluating nutritional value of foods and effectiveness of exercise.  Food manufacturers are trying to convince us that a specific product is awesome simply because it has zero calories (diet Coke, anyone?) and equipment manufacturers incorporate all sorts of displays to show calories burned during exercise.  Calorie calculators are abundant on the net and apps, programs and even smart kitchen scales exist to let you easily determine – and maintain – your specific daily caloric intake.

Calories have long become a cornerstone of modern nutrition – the concept of a calorie is realtively easy to explain (and even easier to sell).  But it would probably surprise you to learn that this system is completely useless for all practical purposes – counting calories to maintain weight (or calories needed to lose weight) is too unpredictable, hard to adhere to and often detrimental.

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Alpha women lift weights – here is why

At some point in time, several decades ago, it all went horribly wrong. Fueled by clever marketing to support a wide variety of fitness machines, accessories, clothing, books and gadgets, it was conventionally decided (or, rather, force-fed to consumers) that women should be limiting their physical activity to aerobics.  It was the “womanly” thing to do – this was apparent when you looked at crowds of bikini-clad, tanned girls on covers of magazines, TV personalities promising Buns of Steel from a few relatively simple movements and complete absence of any reference of realistic free weights in women’s fitness routines.

The idea of a woman touching a barbell, or even a dumbbell seemed outrageous.  Thanks, to a large degree, to horrid images of female bodybuilders from the 80s and early 90s that scarred the imagination of many feminine-shape-seeking ladies with overdeveloped deltoids and lats, huge pectorals instead of breasts, enormous quads and, pretty much everything Arnold Schwarzenegger was sporting around that same time, minus the accent .  “But I don’t want to look like a man!” rightfully objected the women – and flocked into countless gyms conveniently offering “lighter” exercises more suitable for women.

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