“What tips do you have for a healthy heart?”

Heart disease is something we all need to be aware of, especially as we get older. And since February is American Heart Month, your question is quite timely.

As you probably know, there are endless amounts of information on eating properly and keeping your weight down. Exercise is also always mentioned. And although we often understand the importance of exercise, for many senior citizens, it’s not easy to do even if they really want to. Often a painful knee or hip or some other joint makes it very difficult.

Arthritis has a much more profound affect on our health than some folks realize. The inability to walk or exercise properly not only affects our heart and over all conditioning, but contributes to high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and many other health issues.

Since arthritis (osteoarthritis) is primarily due to abnormal structure (like a longer leg or flattened foot), and not age or weight as we’re led to believe, a large part of having a healthy heart begins with your feet! Indeed, with the exception of wheel chair athletes, it’s pretty hard to get any exercise at all without the ability to stand and walk without pain.

Yet the importance of proper structure is very much neglected in medicine today. I hope this will change with the latest research that has just come out. Studies from the famed Mayo Clinic and elsewhere now validate this premise, that abnormal structure is a primary cause of arthritis.

Certainly age and weight are factors, but not the primary factors they were once thought to be. There are people 90 years old with no knee pain and those who are nine and have significant discomfort. And the same is true of weight, with some people being significantly overweight and having no joint pain, while others who are quite slim have severe joint symptoms.

When these factors become most important is when you have been functioning with a “bent frame,” such as a longer leg or flattened foot (as I mentioned above). For example, a foot that flattens causes the knee to turn inward, eventually wearing away its cartilage. Walk like this over a long enough period of time, especially if you are carrying more weight than you should, and you will have an arthritic knee for sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s primarily due to your age or weight.

No one can stay active over a long period of time, no matter how well you eat or how much you watch your weight, without making sure you are decreasing the stress on your joints.

Having a structural evaluation can help alleviate a painful arthritic knee or hip and make it much easier for you to begin having that healthy heart you’re looking for.

A former reconstructive foot and ankle surgeon and past clinical instructor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, Dr. Pack practices at MCG Medical Associates, in Greensboro. He specializes in biomechanical structural analysis and works with patients who have arthritis and wish to decrease joint symptoms and remain active. Dr. Pack also treats athletes at all levels. In the 2004 Olympics he had a silver and gold medalist and helps the UGA Golf Team (2005 NCAA national champions). For further information please see www.drloupack.com, drloupack.blogspot.com or contact him directly at 706-454-0040.

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