Dr Hilary Jones on cardiovascular health - Women's Running

Dr Hilary Jones on cardiovascular health

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  May 15, 2015

Dr Hilary

Cardiovascular disease causes more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK. However, a new study, commissioned by DSM, has revealed that 68% of Brits over 35 worry about their looks over their heart health, with only 7% of people citing heart health as a main health concern. 42% of the adults surveyed also stated they were having trouble getting the right nutrients into their diet, including the recommended two to three portions of fish a week.

We spoke to NHS general practitioner and breakfast television doctor Dr Hilary Jones about the causes of cardiovascular disease, and the importance of exercise and nutrition in improving heart health. Dr Hilary Jones cites regular exercise and the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids as two factors reducing a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

What are the causes of cardiovascular disease?

From childhood we start to lay down fatty deposits on the lining of our arteries called plaque. People imagine that the plague enlarges as we get older and our diet isn’t very healthy, but actually it’s not always the plaque enlarging causing obstruction to the artery which causes heart attack or a stroke. Sometimes the plaque becomes hardened and breaks, it ruptures because the wall of the artery is elastic and moves, it is flexible but the plaque isn’t. The plaque can break and when that happens it attracts the tiny fragments in the blood call platelets and fibrinogen, a clotting factor, and that suddenly increases the amount of clot there is. So you could get a sudden event, where there hasn’t been any obstruction before, and suddenly there is a blood clot there. It is that rupture of the plaque, caused by the laying down of fat over the years in a flexible artery. That is one problem. The second problem is there is inflammation under the plaque. The third problem is often associated with high blood pressure.

How important is good nutrition, particularly the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, in improving your heart health?

Many people in Britain are unaware about which foods are nutritious for their heart, however by making simple lifestyle and nutritional choices you can actively improve heart health.

What we know about Omega-3 is that it has a beneficial effect for all three of those causes shown in randomised clinical trials. Studies have shown oily fish containing Omega-3s can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and reducing fat build-up in the arteries, and maintaining normal blood triglyceride levels.

To meet the government recommendation of two oily fish portions per week, Omega-3 supplements containing vegetarian, algal-based Omega-3s or fish oil can help make up for diet deficiencies.

 How else might a person reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease?

Heart disease is called by lots of factors: by smoking, by diabetes, by sedentary lifestyle, by stress, by genetics, by cholesterol. You have to address all of these to really minimise your risk of heart disease. You have to take responsibility of your own health, take regular exercise, look at your diet, not smoke and be generally healthy.

How might regular exercise, particularly running, improve your heart health?

Running is a really good way of exercising your heart and keeping fit, and most runners find the motivation to eat healthily as well. Why would you want to run regularly and look at improving your time and then go and eat all of the wrong foods? It’s good to be motivated by everything.

Would you say that people who run regularly, or do a lot of exercise need to include more Omega-3 fatty acids in their diet than the average person?

I would say that because runners have a higher metabolic rate and are burning more calories, they have to be careful where they are getting their calories from. They don’t want to get it from energy drinks and they don’t want to get it from too much stodge. Some carbohydrates are good because you need the energy, but equally our diets aren’t rich in Omega-3, so where are you going to get your Omega-3 from when it’s almost non-existent in meat sources now? Plant sources aren’t very useful to the human body and we’re eating less oily fish. We need to maintain our muscles, our hearts and our nervous system and we need all that for running, as well as everything. I think supplementation with high quality marine-sourced fish oils is a good idea.

Research has proven that Omega-3 fatty acids can help counter inflammation. Would you recommend taking Omega-3 supplements to help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation after a run?

If it works for you and you believe it works, why not take it? Cod liver oil for example has been taken by people for years and people swear by it. The clinical studies are a little ambivalent. If you look at pharmaceutical medicines for joints, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories have significant side effects in some people. So why would you want to use that as a first-line therapy when you can take a supplement and some people get benefits from it?

Do you have any additional tips for runners?

I think it’s really important for runners to do some resistance exercises. Long distance running is a bit catabolic, it breaks down a lot of protein so you get quite slim and you lose a lot of power. If you can keep your muscles strong it usually improves your running and prevents injury.

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