How Healthy is Your Heart?

February is hearth month – a time to focus on the importance of good cardiovascular health. Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada and affects approximately 2.4 million Canadian adults.(¹) Determining how health one’s heart is need not be a tricky task. Here are some simple ways to assess your own heart health, no EKG required:

  1. Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR) – A healthy waist-to-hip ratio can indicate whether you are at increased risk for heart disease, as well as other conditions like Type 2 diabetes, and dementia. Regardless of the intense social focus on weight, a 2006 study shows that WHR is far better predictive measure of mortality than weight or body mass index. (², ³)

Here’s the how-to: Remove any clothing and simply measure your waist (the smallest part of your torso, usually about 2 inches above your belly button) using a soft tape measure (like the one used to measure fabric when making clothes) at the end of a normal respiration. Note that number. Then, measure around the widest part of your hips and note that number. Divide the first number by the second number. Ideally, this number should be at 0.7 for women and 0.9 for men for general health and fertility. ()

According to the World Health Organization, a healthy WHR is: 0.85 or less for women and 0.9 or less for men. ()

2.Pulse pressure. Your pulse pressure is the difference between the systolic (or top number) of your blood pressure, minus the diastolic (or bottom number) of your blood pressure. Healthy arteries are elastic – your pulse pressure is a measure of how elastic your arteries are. ()

For example, if your blood pressure is 120/80, the pulse pressure is 40, which is the ideal pulse pressure. Normal ranges from 40 to 60 mm. A high, or “wide” pulse pressure reading of 60 or greater is predictive of cardiovascular complications and mortality. The greater your pulse pressure, the stiffer and more damaged the blood vessels are thought to be.

3. Reach for your toes. From a seated position, see how far you can reach your toes. The further you can reach, the more elastic your arteries are considered to be. Trunk flexibility is a reliable indicator of arterial stiffness for persons over the age of 40. ()

4. Measure you heart rate recovery (HRR). This assessment is not suitable for everyone and you should consult your health care provider before trying it. Your HRR is the rate at which your heart rate returns to normal after strenuous exercise. The faster your heart rate recovers (or slows down) the fitter and healthier your heart.

Here’s the how-to: Place one or two fingertips (not a thumb) on the opposite wrist, just below the base of your thumb. Count the number of heartbeats you feel in 20 seconds. Multiply that number by three to get your heart rate per minute. Do an activity that will elevate your heart rate and exercise as hard as you are able to for as long as you are able to. Measure your heart rate after you stop the exercise and measure again one minute later.

A heart rate recovery of 15-20 beats per minute after one minute of rest was considered about average for heart health and anything faster than that was considered to be good heart health. ()

References:
1. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/news/2017/02/heart_month.html

2. Price, G. M., Uauy, R., Breeze, E., Bulpitt, C. J., & Fletcher, A. E. (2006). Weight, shape, and mortality risk in older persons: elevated waist-hip ratio, not high body mass index, is associated with a greater risk of death. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 84(2), 449–460. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/84.1.449

3.Welborn TA, Dhaliwal SS, Bennett SA. Waist-hip ratio is the dominant risk factor predicting cardiovascular death in Australia. Med J Aust. 2003;179(11-12):580-585. doi:10.5694/j.1326-5377.2003.tb05704.x

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waist%E2%80%93hip_ratio

5. Waist circumference and waist-hip ratio: report of a WHO expert consultation. Geneva, 8-11 December 2008. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241501491

6. Homan TD, Bordes S, Cichowski E. Physiology, Pulse Pressure. [Updated 2020 Jun 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482408/

7. American Physiological Society. “A Simple Way For Older Adults To Assess Arterial Stiffness: Reach For The Toes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 October 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091006093345.htm>

8. Cole, C. R., Blackstone, E. H., Pashkow, F. J., Snader, C. E., & Lauer, M. S. (1999). Heart-rate recovery immediately after exercise as a predictor of mortality. The New England journal of medicine, 341(18), 1351–1357. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199910283411804