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Preventing Heart Disease at Any Age
Max Bupa’s Health Information Desk
Built to last a lifetime.’ With the use-and-throw philosophy prevalent nowadays, that’s not an accreditation we come across much for any product. This is a device that works without rest and without pause from the foetal stage to the end of a person’s natural life. With 101,000 beats a day, during its lifetime it beats about three billion times and pump about 800 million of blood. Mind-boggling, right? So, what is this magic device? Your heart, of course
Despite the incredible working capacity of the heart, one hears of heart disease being a major reason for fatalities across the age spectrum: from the young to the old. This fact sheet talks about heart problems and how to take care of your heart. The heart may have been made to last a lifetime, but your lifestyle, eating habits, your activity quotient effect its health in a major way. Nevertheless, with proper care, heart health can be maintained and premature deaths avoided.
Heart disease means a condition when there is a malfunctioning heart whose performance is not at its optimum level to support life. One of the major factors for heart disease is the natural aging process. With age, wear and tear of your internal organs occurs. This causes your arteries to lose their elasticity, resulting in risks of high blood pressure. The risks are even higher if coronary heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol are in your genetic makeup.
Body shape is another important factor determining a person’s susceptibility to heart disease. An apple-shaped body — fat deposition around the waist — is at a higher risk of heart attacks than one which is pear-shaped — fat deposition around the hips. If one of your parents or both have apple shaped bodies, it is important for you to keep a check on your diet and maintain an energetic exercise regime.
One of the most common heart problems is coronary heart disease (CHD) also known as Ischaemic (pronounced "i-scheme-ik") heart disease or coronary artery disease.The main cause of CHD is Cholesterol. A fat-like waxy substance found in our blood, cholesterol is required for some important activities of the body; however, excess cholesterol can combine with other substances to form plaque which deposits itself along the walls of coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart. This thickens their inner walls and constricting the space for the easy flow of blood within them, making it harder for blood to reach the heart. If someone has CHD they may experience the following:
Another condition wherein the body gets into a high risk-zone for heart disease is having Diabetes (type 1 or type 2). High cholesterol and high blood pressure come as an unfortunate package deal with Diabetes. Diabetes also amplifies the effect of other risk factors such as smoking and obesity.If a person is already Diabetic, to minimize the risk of their developing heart disease, they must have a tight control over their ménage à trois: blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Hypertension commonly referred to as High Blood Pressure or High BP, is a condition which eventually leads up to heart disease. High blood pressure has the infamous reputation of being a silent killer as it does not have any pronounced symptoms. So, one must be extra careful about it. Once you hit middle age and as you grow older it is advisable to get your blood pressure checked every five years even if your blood pressure has always been within the normal ranges. If you already have high blood pressure, you should get it checked regularly, as per your doctor’s advice on frequency of monitoring.
One of the most important requirements for a healthy heart is regular exercise. Exercise helps you maintain a better balance of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. HDL is called the ‘good’ cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which then removes the cholesterol from your body. LDL on the other hand is called the ‘bad’ cholesterol because a high LDL level leads to a build-up of cholesterol in your arteries. An optimum balance of the two is achieved through a minimum of 30 mins of exercise at least five times a week.
You can reduce your risk of heart disease by 50% by just doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity activities for a minimum of 5 days in a week. You can even break these 30 minutes to several smaller sessions in case you are a busy person, since in the end the total time for which you work out in a day is what counts.
Along with improving your heart health and blood circulation, exercise also:
Physical activity is beneficial at any age. However, you should not be in a hurry in building up your activity levels if your body is not used to strenuous activity it can become harmful. You must raise the levels gradually. So, find activities you enjoy which are not too taxing to your body are safe and are convenient as well.
Always do moderate intensity activities. Moderately-intense physical activity means you have exercised just enough to make you feel warm and slightly out of breathe. It strengthens your heart and helps it pump more blood around your body with lesser effort.
Choosing an activity that you enjoy, including it in your daily routine and gradually building it up will prevent it from becoming a chore thereby making it one of the most pleasurable ways to look after your heart. The more vigorous the exercise, the less the chances of heart disease developing.
Cycling, swimming, dancing, brisk walks, and so on are few of the many options easily available to you. Physical activity doesn't necessarily mean having to take up a sport – taking the stairs instead of the lift, or mowing your lawn, walking instead of taking a bus or driving also counts.
Sometimes there are certain medical reasons for not taking up a particular exercise. Consult your doctor before you begin, if you are in doubt. If you start gently, you will be at a lower risk of causing harm to yourself. Always build up the frequency — how often you exercise, of a particular activity before you increase the intensity — how strenuously you exercise.
Another way to prevent heart disease is by reducing cholesterol levels in your body. Eat a healthy, low-fat diet, incorporate fruits, healthy grains and vegetables into your food habits. In certain cases individuals even after following a healthy diet may find their cholesterol levels imbalanced. This could be because they may have a genetic predisposition towards the condition. A good way of determining this is to see if members of your family already have high cholesterol levels. As a last resort, one can use medication to regulate cholesterol levels and slow down or partially reverse heart disease.
Giving up smoking is not an easy task and it may take several trials before you actually succeed. Being a passive smoker also increases your risk of developing heart disease. So, you must be careful and should not expose yourself to passive smoking. Along with reducing the risk of developing heart disease, giving up smoking also reduces the risk of many other serious ailments such as cancer and emphysema.
It is never too late to quit smoking, whatever your age may be. You will see your health improving within days of quitting. A true fact to inspire you: five years after you quit smoking, the risk of your developing heart disease will be same as someone who has never smoked in their life.
Studies have shown that consumption of alcohol in moderate amounts, is instrumental in reducing the risk of Ischaemic heart disease (CHD) in men above 40 years and women after menopause. However, equally extensive studies have proved that people who are heavy drinkers are more likely to be susceptible to a heart attack than people who do not consume alcohol, hence, drinking should always be in moderation.
The amount of alcohol you consume each day is important. A thumb rule to determine your safe limits is: 3-4 units of alcohol per day for men and not more than 2-3 for women. That does not mean if you have not had any alcohol during the whole week, it’s safe to add up the numbers permitted per day and binge drink 21 units (by men) or 14 units (by women) on weekends. Binge drinking is not at all good for your health, on the other hand having alcohol free days is.
Some beverages can be stronger than you think. So, try and increase your awareness of what you consume and the number of units you take in. The labels of bottles or cans have the information about the number of units of alcohol present in them, you can make informed choices by simply reading them.
The list below shows the number of units of alcohol in some popular beverages.
Healthy eating habits can prevent heart diseases.. A healthy diet is the one that includes balanced food choices from all food groups. Change to a low-fat, low-salt diet and add plenty of fruits and vegetables to your daily meal plans.
Cooking methods also play a major role in your diet. Use low fat oils and choose healthy cooking methods like grilling, baking or steaming over deep frying. Remove the fat off meat, have skinless chicken and include more fish in your diet to help you reduce fat intake.
Being overweight is directly linked to heart disease. Mostly we know when we are overweight, however, you can consult your doctor if and how to lose some excess weight. A healthy and strict diet combined with vigorous exercise routines will help you shed those extra kilos leading to a healthier heart and as a result a fitter you.