Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), which is commonly referred to as heart disease, encompasses a range of diseases of the heart and blood vessels. These include coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke.
CVD is the number one cause of both death and disability among men and women in the United States. Every year almost 700,000 people die of heart disease in the United States.
While CVD includes a number of diseases including congenital heart disease (disease that develops before birth) and arrthymias (abnormal heart rhythms), the most common type of CVD involves damage to the heart or blood vessels due to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis refers to damage to the arteries, your bodies "pipes" that carry blood and oxygen to your tissues.
What Is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is the condition in which an artery wall thickens as the result of a build up of fatty materials such as cholesterol. It is a syndrome affecting arterial blood vessels.
It is a chronic inflammatory response in the walls of arteries, in large part due to the accumulation of macrophage white blood cells and promoted by low density (especially small particle) lipoproteins (plasma proteins that carry cholesterol and triglycerides) without adequate removal of fats and cholesterol from the macrophages by functional high density lipoproteins (HDL).
What Causes Atherosclerosis?
Fatty substances, cholesterol, waste products, calcium and other substances build up on the inner lining of our arteries over time much like hair, dust and gunk build up within the drain of your bathroom sink.
In our arteries, this buildup is called plaque. In our sink's pipes, this buildup decreases the flow of water until you eventually use Drain-O type or the water starts piling up (like in those lovely airplane bathrooms).
In our arteries, plaque can reduce blood flow through the artery. When one or more plaques rupture they cause blood clots that can lodge within your artery, blocking blood flow leading to a heart attack or stroke.
As a bodybuilder, did you know that you are already decreasing your risk for Developing Cardiovascular Disease? The Mayo Clinic, CDC and other health authorities indicate that there are several controllable risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis. Bodybuilding decreases many of the risk factors including:
1. Lack Of Physical Activity:
If you are a bodybuilder you certainly aren't short on physical activity. Luckily, what makes your body look fabulous also helps your heart and arteries.
2. High Blood Cholesterol:
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance found in every cell in our body. Our blood cholesterol comes from two different sources:
- Our bodies produce cholesterol (mainly our liver; children under 2 do not produce enough cholesterol to meet their body's needs so they must consume it through food).
- We eat cholesterol in foods of animal origin.
Just eating cholesterol in our diet does not necessarily correspond to an increase in our blood cholesterol. In fact, saturated fat and trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) and possibly interesterified fats, have a greater affect on your blood cholesterol levels then dietary cholesterol.
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There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (low density lipoprotein, aka our "bad" cholesterol) and HDL (high density lipoprotein, our "good" cholesterol). High levels of LDL are linked to an increased risk of heart disease whereas high levels of HDL are linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Aim for the following values:
- Total Cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
- LDL: Less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL: 40 mg/dL or higher
As a bodybuilder, you already eat a healthy diet, which will help keep your cholesterol levels in check.
Related Cholesterol Articles:
- Cholesterol: Good Or Bad? - By David Robson
- The Real Story On Cholesterol & Fats! - By Mauro Di Pasquale
- High Cholesterol & Its Affects On Your Body!
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3. High Triglyceride Levels:
Triglycerides are basically fat in your bloodstream. These modifiable factors increase your triglyceride levels: overweight/obesity, lack of physical activity, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, a very high carbohydrate diet (unless you are burning it off the way a runner or triathlete does) and certain drugs.
As a bodybuilder, you can scratch off all of these factors that can increase your triglyceride levels (except maybe the prescription drugs). That's right, none of these apply to you.
Triglycerides: Aim for less than 150 mg/dL
If you are a bodybuilder you certainly aren't overweight. If you are new to the sport and making changes in your physique on the road to "before and after" pictures, congratulations! You are well on your way to changing your body inside and out.
5. High Blood Pressure:
High blood pressure places a strain on your heart and arteries. Imagine that garden hose with the nozzle partly closed yet the water is on full blast. The water puts pressure on the walls of the hose right? This is similar to what high blood pressure does to your artery walls - it can damage them and cause weak spots.
Exercise helps manage high blood pressure as does maintaining a good body weight. If you are a bodybuilder you have both of those factors down and you probably watch your salt intake as well. A high sodium diet can increase blood pressure in people who are sodium sensitive.
Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure of 140 mmHg or higher, or a diastolic pressure (the bottom number) 90 mmHg or higher.
Tobacco smoke accelerates the development of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, the aorta and the arteries in your legs. If you are a bodybuilder, chances are you don't smoke.
If you are just getting started in bodybuilding and still smoke, the good news is that smoking makes your workouts tougher and your breath stink (which means no workout partner for you!). Keep bodybuilding, it's a great stimulus to quit smoking.
Diabetes comes with a host of issues and one of those involves an increased risk for CVD. If you are an insulin dependent diabetic and a bodybuilder, you are watching your food intake and accurately dosing your insulin to compensate for what you eat while adjusting for your physical activity levels.
Related Diabetes Articles:
- Bodybuilding With Diabetes. - By Christopher Mohr
- Diabetes Detox! - By Amy Davis
- Other Diabetes Articles...
If you are a type 2 non-insulin dependent diabetic, the good news is that physical activity may help reverse your diabetes (especially if you get your weight down and watch what you eat).
Additional Tips To Help You Decrease Your Risk For CVD
- Keep your stress levels low.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet to keep C-Reactive protein and other measures of inflammation down. Include berries, fatty fish, mango and other foods that may help inflammation low.
- Take 1 a day. Aspirin that is. Or baby aspirin. If you have CVD in your family, talk to your physician about taking aspirin daily.
- Meditate or try yoga. Cardiac rehab classes often incorporate one or both of these modalities because they help lower your stress and play a role in decreasing one's risk for cardiac events.
The development of CVD starts when we are children. That's right, we start clogging our arteries at a young age thanks to Twinkies, candy and fried foods. Some of us are genetically predisposed to higher cholesterol levels and/or higher blood pressure. However, just being predisposed to something isn't a license to throw in the towel and rely on prescription drugs.
There are many modifiable risk factors involved in the development and progression of CVD. If you are a bodybuilder you are already doing the right things to get your physique in picture perfect form.
Related Conditions & Diseases Articles:
- Education & Steps To A Long Healthy Life! - By Richard Choueiri
- What To Eat And Not To Eat When You Are In Pain! - By Dr. David Ryan
- Why Care? Take Care Of Your Heart Now! - By Jennifer Nicole Lee
- Other Conditions & Diseases Articles...
Luckily, eating right, working out, not smoking and avoiding pitchers of beer will not only enhance your body on the outside but also shape your body on the inside. Clean arteries, low blood pressure and maintenance of a healthy weight will go a long way toward prolonging the quality and quantity of your life.
About The Author:
- Marie Spano has provided sports nutrition counseling to elite and recreational athletes alike for over 10 years. For more information, visit
- Mayo Clinic: Cardiovascular disease 101: Understanding heart and blood vessel conditions http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cardiovascular-disease/HB00032
- CDC: Heart Disease. http://www.cdc.gov/HeartDisease/