Having a Healthy Taekwondo Ticker

February is heart health month, so there is no better time than the present to start—or continue—making smart choices for this most vital of organs.  By committing to martial arts training, you are already showing positive efforts toward your cardiovascular health.  But there are many parts to keeping your ticker, well, tocking!   Here are a few ways that you can get a head start on strengthening your heart.


Don’t Eat Your Heart Out

I bet you’ve never heard this, but watching your portion size, eating more fruits and vegetables and limiting unhealthy fats will all help with your overall heart health.  You’re shocked, right?!  Hear me out.  Yes, according to the Mayo Clinic, all of these things will help reduce cholesterol, which can reduce your risk of heart attack and even stroke.  These can be easy substitutions in your daily routine and are important to consider, but we’re also talking about something a little more specific— less sodium.

According to the American Heart Association, most adults should average only 1,500 mg of sodium per day.  On Heart.org, it explains that “If Americans moved to an average intake of 1,500 mg per day it could result in a 25.6 percent overall decrease in blood pressure and an estimated $26.2 billion in health care savings.”

You may be thinking, “I don’t add a lot of salt to my food,” but most of the sodium we consume is already in the foods we eat. In the same statistics from Heart.org, it states that “More than 70 percent of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods.”  This means that even if you never pick up a salt shaker, you are probably still taking in too much sodium.

A couple of helpful hints to monitor your salt intake are to eat fresh meals or opt for low-sodium products.  You can also remove salt from recipes (you probably won’t notice the difference). And one of the biggest tips is to READ LABELS.  Don’t rely on taste buds alone.  One slice of whole wheat bread (not a salty treat) can have about 100 mg of sodium!  Savvy shopping could be a life-saver.


Rest Easy

Sleep is on just about every list as something that benefits overall health, which includes your heart.  An article by Health.ClevelandClinic.org states that “If you don’t sleep enough, you may be at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases no matter your age or health habits.” 

In fact, one study that looked at 3,000 adults over the age of 45 found that those who slept fewer than six hours per night were twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack as people who slept six to eight hours each night.  Researchers state that “having too little sleep can cause disruptions in underlying heath conditions such as blood pressure and inflammation.”

If you know that you are having trouble getting adequate sleep each night, then you may want to speak to your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea.  Though it is easily treated, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed and can be linked to heart disease and arrhythmias.

Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night and give that heart a break.


Keep It Moving

Heart pumping aerobic exercise is one of the key ingredients to good cardiovascular health.  Being physically active on a regular basis is a major step toward having a strong heart.  It helps strengthen the heart muscle, keeps your weight under control and wards off the artery damage caused by high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure.

This is great news because you already work out regularly with your ATA classes! The type of exercise you receive through martial arts is actually just what the doctor ordered.  Kerry J. Steward, Ed. D., an exercise physiologist from Johns Hopkins says that “Aerobic exercise is a great tool for heart health.  And, although flexibility doesn’t contribute directly to heart health, it’s nevertheless important because it provides a good foundation for performing aerobic and strength exercises more effectively.” 

Steward recommends 30 minutes a day of activity.  Chances are you aren’t doing Taekwondo classes every single day, so on days that you don’t, go for a walk or jog.  Work on your form or do drills to keep that heart pumping on your days off.  Every little bit helps, and the more active you are, the better you’ll perform your martial arts as well.  It’s a win-win.

Also, studies have shown that doing something you love with people you love improves your heart health.  It lowers your blood pressure and relieves your stress.  So, kick and punch with your favorite ATA peeps as much as your heart desires.


Get It Checked

One of the biggest misconceptions about heart health is that if you’re doing all the right things, then your heart is just fine.  The fact is that heart disease is the number one killer of men and women.  And some of these people are a picture of health. 

A preventative step that you can take is to schedule a heart health check with your doctor.  Having a good idea of your resting heart rate, knowing where your blood pressure stands and finding out about your cholesterol are all things that will help you create a baseline so that your doctor can observe any changes over time.  It is also important to be aware of your family history.  Remember that, many times with heart disease, the symptoms go unnoticed so listen to your body and get checked regularly to stay a step ahead in this vital game.


If you want more information on what you can do to balance your cardiovascular health, visit Heart.org and check out what the American Heart Association has to say that could save your life, or the life of someone you know.  Don’t skip a beat when it comes to your heart health!



Author: Jenny Wolff 

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