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Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables

Increasing fruit and vegetable intake from five to eight servings a day prevents heart attacks and prolongs life. For every additional serving above two per day, there is a four percent decrease in the rate of heart disease deaths (European Heart Journal, published online January 18, 2011). Not eating enough fruits and vegetables is a major risk factor, in itself, for heart attacks and premature death. Eight servings a day of fruits and vegetables will weigh approximately one and a half pounds.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture have just released a report recommending that Americans eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free milk, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, nuts and seeds; and restrict salt, refined sugars, fats, and refined grains. Among their 23 recommendations:
• Limit daily intake of salt,
• Restrict saturated fats,
• Replace refined grains with whole grains,
• Restrict solid fats and added sugars,
• Limit alcohol to one drink per day,
• Eat lots of fruits and vegetables,
• Replace meat and poultry with seafood, and
• Do not gain fat weight.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Why are there more heart attacks in cold weather? Increased heart attack rate in cold weather is due to a combination of shoveling snow, breathing cold air and having cold air on your face.

Shoveling snow is probably the strongest factor, as more heart attacks occur on the day after a snowfall than on the coldest days. Men often have higher heart rates shoveling snow than when they exercise all out in a doctor's office (JAMA, March 1995). Your heart has to work two and a half times harder to pump blood through your arms than your legs because smaller blood vessels have greater resistance against blood flow. If you become short of breath while walking, your heart could be too weak for you to lift a shovel full of snow safely. Your heart could beat irregularly and you could develop a heart attack.

Breathing cold air further increases heart attack risk by decreasing exercise capacity and making your heart work even harder by constricting the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from your lungs, and the arteries that carry blood to your heart (Chest, June 1998). Lack of oxygen increases risk of clotting and irregular heart beats.

Cold air on your face causes a reflex that closes blood vessels leading to your heart to reduce the oxygen supply to the hearts of people who already have blocked coronary arteries.

If you have heart disease, do not shovel snow. If you do shovel, take small shovel loads, rather than fewer heavy ones. Hold the shovel close to your body to lighten the load, reach down for the snow by bending your knees and come up by straightening them.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Why is my bicycle racing (age 69) getting slower each year?

Aging saps you of muscle strength by causing you to lose muscle fibers. All muscles are made up of thousands of individual muscle fibers. For example, the vastus medialis muscle of a 20-year-old contains about 800,000 fibers, while that of a 69-year-old contains only about 200,000.

The limiting factor in how fast you can run, ski, cycle, skate or swim is the time it takes to bring oxygen into your muscles. That is limited by how much oxygen-filled blood your heart can pump into your muscles. The faster your heart can beat, the more oxygen-filled blood it can pump to your muscles and the longer and faster you can exercise.

As you age, your heart cannot beat as fast as it did when you were younger. Your maximum heart rate slows dramatically. For people who are not highly fit, the fastest your heart can beat is estimated as 220 beats per minute minus your age. However, highly fit older people can have maximum heart rates that are much higher than those of unfit younger people.

Your maximum heart rate is determined by the strength of your skeletal muscles, not by the strength of your heart. When your leg muscles contract, they squeeze veins near them to push blood toward your heart. When you leg muscles relax, the veins fill with blood. So your leg muscles pump increased amounts of blood toward your heart. This increased blood fills the heart and causes your heart to be faster and with more force. This is called the Bainbridge reflex. The stronger your legs are, the more blood they can pump, which causes your heart to beat faster.

Intense training that strengthens leg muscles can increase maximum heart rate so you will still be able to compete against younger athletes. Although your training will make you faster than less-fit individuals, you are still losing muscle fibers and will not be able to move as fast as you did when you were younger.

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Recipe of the Week:

Cuban Corn Chowder

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

February 6th, 2011
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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