Your know-it-all guide to a healthy heart

If you think only men suffer from heart ailments, you’re wrong. Women, too, are at an equal risk. With World Heart Day being celebrated this month, Dr Parul Sheth suggests important preventive steps to keep cardiovascular diseases at bay.

eart disease is often thought to be a man’s disease. But a study that was conducted last year in India revealed that women here are equally prone to cardiovascular diseases. In fact, they are at a higher risk of heart disease than three years ago. High blood pressure, sedentary lifestyle, stressful work conditions and lack of proper diet were attributed as the main reasons.

This battle can be won if we become aware of the symptoms and risks. Following a healthy diet and exercising can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Here are 10 ways to keep your heart healthy.

Exercise regularly

It is essential to incorporate exercises in your day-to-day routine. Aerobic exercises are good for your heart. These prevent CVDs by lowering your blood pressure, increasing endurance, improving sleep and reducing stress. Simple workouts such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking and doing sit-ups, etc. during the day can prove to be helpful. If you are the athletic kind, then opt for swimming or bicycling. Include moderate exercises such as walking briskly for 30-60 minutes on most days of the week. Break your physical activity into several 10-15 minute sessions as short bursts of intensive exercise (for instance a short run) boost your metabolism.

Eat heart-healthy food

Include fruits, vegetables, low-fat foods and fibre, etc. in your daily diet. Eat lean meat, wholegrain breads or chapatis. Avoid fatty and fried foods such as full-cream dairy products and fried foods, etc. Low-fat oils such as sunflower oil, olive oil and rice bran oil are good for your heart. Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids can be had from oily fish such as sardine, mackerel (bangda), salmon (rawas) and fresh tuna. It is best to eat your fish baked, grilled or shallow fried. Seeds and nuts such as pumpkin seeds, flax seeds (alsi), walnuts and almonds contain omega-3 fatty acids. Opt for unsalted and non-fried nuts. Make it a habit to eat oats with low-fat or skimmed milk for breakfast. Add fruits like bananas and apples to your breakfast to enhance its nutritive value.

Limit your salt intake

Studies have demonstrated that consuming more than 2,300 mg of sodium each day can increase your blood pressure and put you at risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg of salt intake for people with diabetes, kidney problems and high blood pressure. Limit your salt intake to one teaspoon per day. Most sodium in the diet comes from packaged and processed foods. Check the labels before you buy them. It is safer to avoid junk food such as French fries, chips, etc. which contain extra salt. Stop sprinkling extra table salt on your foods.

Consume red wine

Avoid consuming beer, whisky and vodka to stay healthy. However, red wine is good for the heart. A recent study conducted by cardiologist Dr William McCrea at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, England, showed that two glasses of red wine a day is ideal as it prevents clots from developing inside the arteries, raises good cholesterol and causes dilatation of the arteries.

Quit smoking

Cigarette smoking or nicotine in any form can narrow the blood vessels, especially the coronary arteries. Kick the butt today.

Maintain your weight

Excess weight can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and atherosclerosis. All these three conditions can put you at a high risk of CVD. Obesity can be measured in terms of the Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. The ratio of your waist to hips and the correlation between your height and weight can tell if you are obese. According to the World Heart Federation, if your BMI is higher than 25, you are considered overweight. If you are a woman, a BMI greater than 21 may adversely affect your heart health. If your BMI is over 30, you are obese and you are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Woman with a waist equal to or more than 80 cm are at a higher risk.

Get rid of that paunch

Researchers suggest that intra-abdominal fat can adversely affect your metabolism. If you have a big belly, you have accumulated fat that can affect your blood pressure and blood lipid levels. It interferes with your ability to use insulin effectively, which puts you at a risk of developing diabetes, a risk factor of heart ailments. BMI above 21 is responsible for 58 per cent of diabetics and 21 per cent of people with ischemic heart disease.

Go for routine tests

Get your blood pressure checked regularly and go for blood tests to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) both carry cholesterol in the blood. High levels of LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol, lead to atherosclerosis, thus increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. The HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by carrying the cholesterol away from the bloodstream. In women, oestrogen, the female hormone raises HDL cholesterol thus lowering the risk of CVD. Triglyceride is the most common type of fat in the body that varies with age and sex. High levels of triglyceride along with high levels of LDL cholesterol hasten the process of atherosclerosis, thereby increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Sleep well

Quality sleep of 7-8 hours in the night is essential to remain healthy. People who sleep less than six hours each night have a higher risk of developing CVD. One of the sleep disorders that give disturbed sleep is sleep apnoea, which causes breathing interruptions during sleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnoea causing loud snoring. Untreated sleep apnoea can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart failure and arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. This issue can be addressed by making lifestyle changes and using mouthpieces or breathing devices.

Manage stress

Stress increases your CVD risk. Mental stress and depression affect your heart. Stress increases the hormone cortisone levels, blood sugar levels and blood pressure – thus putting you at a risk of heart trouble. When you are tensed, distract yourself, be calm and breathe deeply. Deep-breathing exercises such as pranayama, meditation and yoga are helpful.

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