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Stretch and Breathe Your Way to Heart Health!

If you are looking for a calming way to get your recommended daily dose of exercise, you may need to look no further than the floor! Americans looking for a new twist on working out are hitting the mat (the yoga mat, that is!) in ever-increasing numbers.

Researchers are finding that yoga may actually reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. In addition, yoga is credited with other wide-ranging health benefits, including easing chronic back pain, depress, diabetes, menopause, obesity, and even fatigue in cancer patients.

Yoga is a blend of interconnected combination of stretching and muscle activity used to achieve physical poses, deep controlled breathing, and focusing and clearing the mind through meditation. These elements combine to provide special hearth-health benefits and offer distinct advantages to those with cardiovascular disease.

Among the ways that yoga can improve your cardiovascular health:

  • Yoga gently works your muscles, which is good for your blood vessels and heart.

  • Physical activity like yoga helps to control your blood sugar by helping your muscles increase their sensitivity to insulin.

  • Slower, deeper breathing temporarily lowers your blood pressure.

  • Yoga has been shown to lower other cardiovascular risk factors, including cholesterol, stress hormones, resting heart rates, and the progression of atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries).

  • The meditative component of yoga helps to stabilize the endothelium, or blood vessel lining, which contributes to cardiovascular disease when irritated.

There are many different kinds of yoga, from gentle to very active. Although research suggests that most people can benefit from any style of yoga, the more peaceful hatha yoga – which has slower, easier movements – is great for beginners.

Here are a few tips for finding the right yoga class for you:

  • Look for a yoga class that offers the complete package – poses, breathing and meditation. These three elements are interconnected and work together to give you and your heart a total workout.

  • Look for a class that matches your level of ability and experience. If it is your first time, ask if it is appropriate for beginners and if it will be easy for you to follow along.

  • Decide what your expectations from the class are, and then find out if the class is aimed toward your needs or if it is geared more for people looking for other benefits.

  • Ask about the instructor's qualifications and find out if he or she has experience working with students with your specific needs or health concerns. A good instructor should create a safe, positive environment for all of his or her students by helping them modify poses to meet individual abilities and limitations.

  • No matter which style of yoga you choose, you do not have to do every pose. A good instructor will understand if a pose is too uncomfortable or if you are unable to hold it as long as requested. You should be encouraged to explore rather than exceed your limits.

Though yoga is not a cure for heart disease, it is a valuable tool for helping to manage cardiovascular disease and keeping your heart healthy. Work with your physician to develop a plan that is right for you and your family.

Join us for a free morning of yoga, food and heart health at "Feed Your Body and Soul" – a free event where you can join in an outdoor yoga class, participate in a heart healthy food demo and hear from Dignity Health heart health experts about easy ways to improve your heart health. Join us August 2 at the Palladio in Folsom. Watch for registration info in coming days!

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The One Word You Need to Know About Your Breasts

Dr. Daniel Herron
Director of Women's Imaging at Mercy Imaging

If you have ever had a mammogram (and if you are over 40 years old, we hope you have!), you may have been told that you have dense breasts. You may not have realized that when it comes to your breasts, this is one of the most important things you can know about them.

To understand breast density, you must understand that all female breasts are made up of a mixture of lobules, ducts, and fatty and fibrous connective tissue. Your breasts are considered dense if yours have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fatty tissue. While we do not fully understand why some women have denser breast tissue than others, we do know that breast density typically decreases with age.

Breast density can only be determined by mammogram and is unrelated to breast size and firmness. You cannot determine density simply by how your breasts "feel." A radiologist will determine your breast density by examining your mammogram. Typically the density of one's breasts will be assigned a number between 1 (less dense) to 4 (most dense).

Breast density is very common among women, affecting about 40% of women. While having dense breasts is not abnormal, it can be a risk factor for breast cancer. Women with dense breast tissue (a 3 or 4) have a higher risk of breast cancer when compared to women with less dense breast tissue (1 or 2). There are many risk factors for breast cancer, including family history of breast cancer, early menstruation, late menopause, first pregnancy after 30. Having dense breasts is considered a "moderate" risk for breast cancer.

Mammography is more effective at finding cancer in women with lower breast density. It is less effective in women with dense breast tissue, women who also have a higher risk of getting breast cancer. Dense breast tissue can also make it more difficult for doctors to detect cancer on mammograms - the dense tissue appears white, just as masses and tumors do. Fatty tissue looks almost black, which helps doctors detect tumors more easily.

Breast MRI is the most sensitive test for finding breast cancer, but its use is limited for multiple reasons, including high costs, lengthy exam times of 30-45 minutes, risk of false positive findings, discomfort of exam, and need for IV access and contrast.

Mercy Radiology began an ultrasound screening program for breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue in August 2014. In our first 100 cases we found 2 cancers in women who had recent normal mammograms.

This technology is affordable, painless for women, and requires no radiation. Our early experience confirms other published studies that using ultrasound we can find breast cancers in asymptomatic women with dense breast tissue that is not detectable on screening mammography.

If you are concerned about your risk factors for breast cancer or want to discuss your breast density and what it may mean to your screening recommendations, talk to your doctor.

Breast Cancer survivor and New York Times Bestselling author Kelly Corrigan will be sharing her inspiring story at Care Begins With Me 2014 on Thursday, October 2! Register now for this special night and you will be treated to priority seating.

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