By Joe Decker

Many of us work out to target a specific part of our body. We want six-pack abs, big biceps or a firmer backside. We all want to look good on the outside.

Unfortunately, many of us overlook what’s on the inside, forgetting our body’s most important muscle: the heart. It’s an incredible muscle and, unlike the muscles that we see in the mirror, the heart never rests. Even while we’re sleeping, the heart is the one muscle that never stops. It’s the ultimate Energizer Bunny.

Your heart works out when you do, bringing oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body.  But keeping your heart healthy requires more than just working out.  There’s much more that needs to be done.

Why does it matter? Coronary heart disease and stroke killed more Americans in 2004 than all forms of cancer combined. And a major cause of coronary heart disease and stroke is atherosclerosis. 

Atherosclerosis was once known as “hardening of the arteries.”  It involves the gradual deposit of fatty substances called plaque along the inside of your arteries.  As plaque builds up over the years, it starts to hinder the blood supply to one or more parts of the body. And that’s when things can go wrong.

If it happens in your brain, for example, you’re in danger of having a stroke.  If it happens to your arms or legs, you could might suffer everything from numbness and pain to tissue death and gangrene.  Finally, if you’re a man, there’s something else to be concerned about. Atherosclerosis is a major cause of erectile dysfunction.  

Yet, according to a recent survey, only about half of Americans understand how dangerous atherosclerosis is.  And many don’t find out until it’s too late: Heart attacks kill 600,000 Americans every year, and many of those victims never had any outward symptoms of heart disease.

None of us wants to become a statistic. So what can we do?  Fortunately, atherosclerosis is highly preventable, and there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Exercise: A great starting point is exercise. Get up off the couch and start walking, running or working out.  Of course, while it may be tempting to just dive into a new workout routine, you should always check with your doctor first to make sure your exercise plan is right for your health condition. Depending on your situation, your doctor might recommend a program designed for weight loss, building muscle or just getting into better shape. 

Eat healthier: Then there is our diet. We all have foods we can’t resist. As with everything in life: Moderation is key: Find a healthy balance.

Stop smoking: It’s always the right time to quit.

Keep your “bad” cholesterol in check: Keep your LDL cholesterol in check. This is the harmful cholesterol that can result in more plaque deposits gumming up your arteries.  

Talk to your doctor: Sometimes, we might need to do more than diet or exercise to keep our hearts healthy.  For example, you might be genetically predisposed to having high cholesterol.  In those cases, there are a number of medications you can discuss with your doctor that can slow down the process of hardening arteries.

Aspirin can reduce the chance of blood clots that can lead to heart attacks. Some statins have been shown to slow the progression of atherosclerosis.  There also are anticoagulants like heparin or warfarin that can thin your blood, thereby helping prevent clots. 

Remember: Your heart is your most important muscle. If you fail to take care of it, it will stop taking care of you. Eating a balanced diet, exercising, keeping the cigarette habit, and taking medications if needed – all of these will keep you and your heart strong and healthy.

For more information, go to:

Us against Athero: www.usagainstathero.com

The American Heart Association: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4440

Mayo Clinic:www.mayoclinic.com

Healthology: http://www.healthology.com/

WebMD: http://www.webmd.com

Joe Decker is recognized as “The World’s Fittest Man” because he is an ultra-endurance power athlete, renowned fitness trainer, motivational author and speaker who has helped thousands of women, men, children and seniors get into shape and lose weight.

Once overweight and out-of-shape, Joe transformed his body and his life through an amazing journey from fat-to-fit. In 2000, Joe broke the Guinness World Records® 24-hour Physical Fitness Challenge to help inspire and motivate people to get fit.

He recently authored the book, The World’s Fittest You, which outlines how anyone can get on the road to a lifetime of physical fitness with hard work and discipline.

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