How to maintain a healthy heart?

What can you do? Be physically active and fit. Above all, begin to question the way you have always eaten.

Under guidance of a sports heart doctor, go for a heart fitness check-up that includes a treadmill stress test, an echocardiogram test and a 2D Doppler test.   -  Nagara Gopal

Athletes’ lower resting heart rate is attributed to their training, which strengthens the muscles of the heart, i.e., with every heartbeat, it helps it to pump a larger volume of blood, and more oxygen goes to the muscles as well. Hence, the heart beats fewer times per minute when compared to non-athletes.

According to a study, the majority of heart muscle cells develop during adulthood. It is believed that approximately 50 percent of the heart muscles are replaced during the lifetime. So, it’s important that you don’t ignore your heart. In recent times, I have been tracking more retired athletes with heart issues in the later years of their life. Let’s understand what issues your heart can face.

Types of heart disease

1) Coronary heart disease: The buildup of plaque (blocks) causes the coronary arteries to narrow because of which there is limited supply of the blood to the heart.

2) Hypertension: This occurs when there is a high force of blood against the artery walls. In the case of narrow arteries, the blood flow meets resistance. The thinner the arteries, the higher the blood pressure. Also, sometimes the arteries harden, so they refuse to expand to adapt to the pressure of the blood. As a result, blood pressure rises.

3) Cardiac arrest: This occurs when there is an abrupt loss of blood flow to the heart muscles themselves due to the heart’s failure to effectively pump or because of blocks in the vessels to the heart muscles.

4) Heart failure: Failure of the heart to pump blood adequately. Narrow arteries/hypertension can lead to heart failure.

5) Arrhythmia: An erratic heartbeat: too fast, too slow or an irregular rhythm.

6) Peripheral artery disease: The narrowing of the peripheral arteries leads to less blood flow to the limbs. This is a sign of atherosclerosis.

7) Congenital heart disease: The existence of a condition from birth, i.e. you are born with it. At Qua Nutrition Clinics where I practise, I do a gene test to rule out cardiac gene markers. If the athlete has these genes, then I ask them to meet Dr Ashish Contractor, who is the best cardiac sports doctor I know. He will then walk the athlete through a list of tests to rule out any issues the athlete may or may not have at a young age.

I am listing a few of the tested markers below:

a) Thrombosis: Check if your genes are at higher risk for thrombosis, i.e., developing blood clots in your blood vessels.

b) Atrial fibrillation: Genetic markers shows if you are predisposed to a heart condition involving an irregular heartbeat.

c) Cardiomyopathy: A heart muscle condition that makes pumping blood to the rest of the body more difficult for your heart. People of certain genetic types are at higher risk.

d) Hypertriglyceridemia: Denotes high levels of triglycerides in the blood. The gene makes you produce more levels of cholesterol, thereby producing more triglycerides.

e) Familial hypercholesterolemia:

A genetic disorder where the body is incapable of removing bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) from the body.

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What impact can genetic testing have on athletes?

Genetic testing is an investigation of your genes that can help diagnose, prognosis of medical conditions, screen family members, and act as guidance on selecting the treatment options. Suppose an athlete knows that he or she is predisposed to a condition. In that case, they can look to make changes such as identifying essential nutrients that can either help prevent the condition or help recover from it, follow a different training schedule, change sports, look for different roles in team or switching to administration or management of sports. There is so much that can be done.

Most athletes that I have met consider it a god-given right to eat whatever they want to, post a hard training session. The word “performance” is usually often associated with sports and athletes. Why? Because you make your body perform something that an ordinary person can’t. And how are you going to prepare your body for high performance? Obviously, by taking care of it. And how are you going to take care? By training, resting and fuelling (nutrition).

I get very agitated when I see athletes wasting their hard work in training by eating absolutely the wrong food. They will be back to where they started, eventually with no progress having been made.

Yes, you can burn the calories off after eating donuts, pastries and cakes, but what about the sugar in these foods that goes into your body? If you are genetically predisposed to a condition, such choices can harm you. It doesn’t mean if you don’t have genetic defects, you can eat whatever you want, as you will risk developing the condition due to poor nutrition choices.

I also ask for blood test reports for the heart markers cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein), LDL, VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein), lipoprotein A, lipoprotein B, homocysteine, C-reactive protein and ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate).

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Additionally, under guidance of a sports heart doctor, go for a heart fitness check-up that includes a treadmill stress test, an echocardiogram test and a 2D Doppler test. Recently, the Board of Control for Cricket in India president and former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly encountered a heart problem. We believe he is a fit person. We also believe that he regularly exercises. We have seen him at the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL) as a very slim, fit Sourav Ganguly. Unfortunately, looks do not guarantee that your pipelines are not clogged up. Therefore, we presume the following may be the areas that any athlete should look upon:

1) Identify if you have a genetic predisposition to a heart disease, then plan what, as an athlete, you should do for your diet in your younger years, playing years, later years and retirement years.

2) If you have no markers but still develop heart disease, speak to experts who can help bring you back on track by applying their experience and knowledge in the relevant field. If I have to recommend foods that Sourav Ganguly should include in his diet at this moment, I would say oats, avocado, nuts and seeds, salmon, beans and legumes, tofu, soy milk, dark chocolate and garlic.

If Sourav Ganguly can get a heart attack, then any one of us readers in the Indian subcontinent is susceptible to heart disease.

What can you do? Be physically active and fit. Above all, begin to question the way you have always eaten. Is eating with love and culture the right thing, or do you need to bring in a little bit of science to your plate? And if you want to eat with science, the person you need to guide you is a nutrition coach, who can help you find your right nutrition capacity for a healthy life for you and your family.

To know more about improving your heart health, write to Ryan at ryan@quanutrition.com.

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