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The Muscle of Life

Extending Lives
By Ross Macdonald

The heart has its own muscle, alone, distinct, and separate from all your other 200 or so muscles. Exercise increases the muscles’ demand for oxygen, which in turn causes the heart to grow and pump more blood, while at the same time the arteries open more little arteries to feed the muscles. It does not take a lot to keep the heart healthy, just daily, continuous exercise—and that does not mean in a gym or running a marathon. Recent studies show that walking to the store, walking home from work, heavy house work, and taking the stairs (not elevators) are as effective as a structured exercise program in improving heart function, lowering blood pressure, and maintaining current weight.

The other main factor in protecting the heart is our eating habits. Many of you have heard of the

Mediterranean Diet, but only recently was it discovered what made it work, and it is not red wine or olive oil. Apparently the secret is alpha-linolenic acid, which is in foods made with canola (rapeseed) oil, walnuts, flaxseed oil, and soybeans. A four-year study of people who had a heart attack within six months of starting, showed that those who ate canola rich foods had a 70 percent reduction in the risk of a second attack and a similar reduction in overall death rate.

Heart failure is the main cause of death in America and the main culprit is a certain kind of fat, specifically saturated fat, led by stearic acid and animal fat. Even eating one high fat meal can be dangerous for those with high fat levels already in the blood, because large amounts of fat can trigger vascular spasms or clots. To widen an artery the body produces nitric oxide but after a high fat meal it cannot do this and the blood flow can decrease rapidly and stay that way for up to four hours.

What is interesting is the test subjects who took 1,000 mg of vitamin C and 800 units of vitamin E before the meal blocked the harmful effects of the fat clogging the arteries. If you plan to eat a high fat dinner it may make a lot of sense to take those two vitamins first⎯you never know, they might save you. The amino acid L-Arginine also increases the body’s ability to produce nitric oxide.

When we take exercise and diet together we have formed a fighting adversary to heart disease. Just as weight reduction is a combination of diet and strength training, protecting the heart uses the same combination. Contact me for a list of foods that are good for the heart.

Ross Macdonald, BS, MS, CPT has written over 150 articles for the Atención on exercise, health and vitamins/supplements since 1997. He can be reached at


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