Heavy drinking makes arteries stiff - increasing risk of heart disease
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES

The results of a 25 year study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looking at alcohol consumption and artery elasticity over 4-5 year intervals found that consistent heavy drinking (more than 4.6 oz of pure alcohol a week) stiffens arteries which increases the risk of heart disease.

The full journal article is at: http://jaha.ahajournals.org/content/6/2/e005288

Use this News

Moderate alcohol intake is known to increase HDL “good cholesterol”  which protects the arteries from stiffening thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease. Problem is, while a little alcohol might be good, a lot isn’t – which is what this study revealed. Drinking more than about five drinks a week, over time, causes the arteries to become less elastic. Loss of artery elasticity or stiffening of the arteries is arteriosclerosis or more commonly known as ‘hardening of the arteries.’

Stiff arteries – arteriosclerosis -  increases the risk of:
                  heart attack
                  congestive heart failure

Bottom line, reducing alcohol intake to a moderate level may be one way to reduce the risk of heart disease from arteriosclerosis.  Moderate alcohol intake, according to the study, is no more than 4.6 oz of pure alcohol per week which is equivalent to:

six  5.8 oz  glasses of 13% wine a week or

six  18 oz (pints) glasses of 4%  ale or lager a week


four 1.5 oz shots of 40% distilled liquor a week


If you drink more than this, you might want to cut back a little. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offer these tips:

Keep track of how much you drink. Find a way that works for you -  make check marks on a kitchen calendar,  enter notes in a mobile phone notepad or personal digital assistant. Making note of each drink before you drink it may help you slow down when needed.

Count and measure so you can keep track of your drinks accurately. Measure drinks at home. Away from home, it can be hard to keep track, especially with mixed drinks, and at times, you may be getting more alcohol than you think. With wine, you may need to ask the host or server not to "top off" a partially filled glass.

Set goals for how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you'll have on those days. Plan some alcohol free days.

Pace and space when you do drink. Sip slowly and have no more than one standard drink with alcohol per hour. Have "drink spacers"—make every other drink a non-alcoholic one, such as water, soda, or juice.

Include food so you don't drink on an empty stomach. The alcohol will be absorbed into your system more slowly if there is food in your stomach, too.

Find alternatives to drinking. If drinking has occupied a lot of your time, then fill free time by developing new, healthy activities, hobbies, and relationships, or renewing ones you've missed. If you have counted on alcohol to be more comfortable in social situations, manage moods, or cope with problems, then seek other, healthy ways to deal with those areas of your life.

Avoid "triggers." If certain activities, people, times of day, or feelings trigger the urge, plan something else to do instead of drinking.

Know how to say "no." Have a polite, convincing "no, thanks" ready. The faster you can say no to these offers, the less likely you are to give in. If you hesitate, it allows you time to think of excuses to go along.


For more information see:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
How much is too much

Harvard Health
11 ways to curb your drinking

American Heart Association
Alcohol and Heart Health


Shoveling snow increases risk of heart attack in men
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES

Researchers in Canada analyzed heart attack data from November to April of each year between 1981 and 2014 and found that 60% of deaths from heart attack during this time occurred in men. Further, the risk of dying increased as the amount of snow and number of hours it snowed increased.  Shoveling after a heavy snow fall (at least 8 inches) that lasted more than 24 hours increased the likelihood of having a fatal heart attack by 34 percent.  The results of the study were published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

 Summary: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315794.php
Journal article abstract: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/189/6/E235

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Shoveling snow is an extreme cardiac workout and, according to the researchers, raises the heart rate to more than 75% of its maximum rate.  Keep in mind that a target heart rate for cardiovascular exercise is between 50 – 85% of maximum. To put this in perspective, the average maximum heart rate for a 50 year old male is 175 beats per minute. Seventy-five percent of that is 130. Shoveling snow raises the heart rate higher than this. For a 60 year old, maximum heart rate is 160 beats per minute with 75% of that at 120. Shoveling can be as strenuous on your heart as a stress test.

So, if you must shovel, do it wisely and follow these tips from the National Safety Council, the American Heart Association and Harvard Health:

  • Stretch or warm up before you begin.
  • Dress in layers. Layers of clothing allows air to be trapped between the layers and form a protective insulation. Wear a hat because much of your body’s heat can be lost through your head. 
  • Don’t shovel after eating a heavy meal. This is the same ‘rule’ as not swimming after eating.
  • Don’t shovel while smoking. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke decreases the amount of oxygen in your blood and the nicotine increases your heart rate and blood pressure, all putting additional strain on your heart.
  • Don’t drink alcohol before shoveling. Alcohol dilates the blood vessels in your skin altering the perception of warmth which may cause you to underestimate how cold your body really is.
  • Avoid shoveling wet, packed snow. It’s heavy, requires more effort to move which puts more of a demand on your heart. Fresh powdery snow is lighter.
    • For heavy snow, use a smaller shovel and take smaller loads.
  • Push the snow rather than lifting it. If you have to lift it, use a small shovel partially filled and lift with your legs, not your back
  • Take frequent breaks.  Stop every 15 minutes to rest and assess how you feel.

Know the warning signs of a heart attack:
      • Chest pressure or pain
      • Pain or an ache down either arm,  across your upper back, or in your jaw
      • Lightheadedness or dizziness
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea and/or vomiting
                            Or if you just don’t ‘feel right’ -
                                                      Call 911!

For more information:

National Safety Council
Why do people die shoveling snow?

American Heart Association
Cold weather and cardiovascular disease.

Harvard Health
Avoiding winter heart attacks.


When we eat and how often can affect our risk of heart disease – American Heart Association Scientific Statement
Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES

In the January issue of its journal Circulation, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a scientific statement on meal timing, frequency and its implications for heart disease prevention. Data from an extensive review of previously published studies showed that the time we eat and how frequently we eat affects our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

For the complete statement: http://circ.ahajournals.org/keyword/aha-scientific-statements
(click on download PDF)

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This study brings to light the importance of looking at all of our daily behaviors and their impact on our health. Take breakfast for example. As the study above revealed, between 20-30% of us no longer eat breakfast. The decline in breakfast consumption over the last few decades parallels the increase in obesity. Skipping meals is also associated with increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Additionally, the time we eat is also an issue. Late-night, that is eating within 2 hours of bed or waking up in the middle of the night to eat, is associated with an increased likelihood of obesity.

Bottom line, it is regular food intake - consistent, planned, scheduled meals – with more of the calories eaten earlier in the day that has a positive effect on risk factors for heart disease in particular, diabetes and obesity.

To use the AHA recommendations:

·         Plan meals over a set number of hours (10-12) during the
          day rather than grazing all day and night.

·         Eat more of your calories earlier in the day

·         Fast overnight – avoid late-night eating

·         Eat a healthy snack before meals to reduce the likelihood of overeating during meals

For more information

American Heart Association - When you eat and how frequent may benefit your health