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The Muscle of Life

Extending Lives

By Ross Macdonald

The heart has its own muscle; alone, distinct, and separate from 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 the marathon. Recent studies show that walking to the store, walking home from work, heavy house work, 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. It was recently discovered what makes the Mediterranean Diet work, and it is not red wine or olive oil. Apparently the secret is “alpha-linolenic acid” which is not found in many foods but 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 the diet 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.

The worst kind of accumulated fat (adipose fat) is in the abdomen; “apple shaped” men and women are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than those who put weight on the hips. Women with a waist 38 inches or higher had more than three times the risk of heart disease than those whose waist was 28 inches or less.

Failure of this “heart muscle” 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, dairy, fat. Even eating one high fat meal can be dangerous for those with high fat levels already in the blood. That is 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.

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 (C&E) first⎯you never know, they might save you.

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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