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How to maintain a healthy heart?

Heart flown

Cardiovascular deaths accounts for 30 percent of all deaths worldwide. There are many risk factors associated with heart disease. Some risk factors, such as family history, cannot be modified, while other risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol can be modified with treatment and lifestyle changes.

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You will not necessarily develop cardiovascular disease if you have a risk factor. But the more risk factors you have the greater the likelihood that you will, unless you take action to modify your risk factors and work to prevent them compromising your heart health.

Exercise and Heart:

heart_diseaseIf you are physically active you will increase your lifespan, regardless of any adverse inherited factors. Physical activity, at any age, protects against a multitude of chronic health problems including many forms of cardiovascular diseases. Exercise protects you by regulating your weight and improving your bodys use of insulin.  Being active is beneficial for your blood pressure, blood lipid levels, blood glucose levels, the health of your blood vessels and inflammation, which is powerful promoter of cardiovascular disease. To keep it simple, you can aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week of moderate exercise. Also, pay attention to how much time you spend seated, whether it’s at work or at home. You must cut that time down. The good news is that even small increases in physical fitness are associated with a significant reduction in cardiovascular risk, even if you have existing disease.

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Diabetes and Heart:

If you develop diabetes, you are at a greater risk of developing heart disease. Yet again, physical activity can help reduce the risk of developing the condition. This is particularly true if you are at high risk of diabetes owing to genetic factors. If you do have diabetes, keeping active will better protect your heart. In people with diabetes, exercise is thought to improve blood glucose control, which reduces the negative impact on the vascular heart.

 Obesity and Heart:

If you are overweight you may develop hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerosis.  These conditions will put you at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Obesity in children is a disturbing trend that needs immediate attention.

The easiest method to detect ideal body weight is to subtract 100 from height in centimetres. Alternatively, you can calculate the Body Mass Index or BMI. BMI in the 18.5 – 25 range is considered ideal. Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that occur together, also increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. One of the key features is abdominal obesity or visceral fat. If you have that problem, youre more likely to have the other characteristics such as high triglycerides, low HDL (€˜good cholesterol), high BP and/or diabetes.

Hypertension and Heart:

Hypertension stresses your bodys blood vessels, causing them to clog or weaken.  Hypertension can lead to atherosclerosis and narrowing of the blood vessels making them more likely to block from blood clots or cholesterol. Raised blood pressure in someone less than 50 years old is associated with an increased cardiovascular risk.  As you get older, your blood pressure becomes a more important predictor of the risk of cardiovascular disease. Hypertension is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke today.

Tobacco and Heart:

It has long been known that smoking is linked to heart disease, cancer and a host of other diseases. If you smoke or started smoking young, your risk of cardiovascular disease is much higher than someone who started as an adult. Being subject to passive smoke also increases the risk.  Smoking damages the endothelium (the lining of the blood vessels), increases fatty deposits in the arteries, increases clotting, raises cholesterol and promotes coronary artery spasm. Nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco, accelerates the heart rate and raises blood pressure.

Although smoking causes a great deal of damage, quitting smoking effectively reduces cardiovascular risk to close to that of a person who has never smoked over a period of time. Therefore, it is never too late to quit!

Diet and Heart:

Diet is one of the key things you can change that will impact all other cardiovascular risk factors. A diet high in saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.  A diet high in saturated fats (e.g. cheese) and trans-fats (often used in cakes, cookies and fast food) leads to high levels of cholesterol, which in turn can lead to atherosclerosis. Unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and essential fatty acids are beneficial for heart health.  They are present in fish, nuts, seeds and vegetables. Omega 3 and Omega 6 found in oily fish, nuts and seeds are crucial in improving good cholesterol levels in the body.

It is important to keep the dietary intake of sodium under check, as a diet high in sodium puts you at risk of developing hypertension. Eating a diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains protects your heart. Abuse of alcohol and binge drinking damages the heart muscles and raises the risk of heart related illnesses.

Stress and Heart:

Stress has been shown to be a possible risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This is because living a stressful life can cause people to adopt poor habits like smoking and eating badly, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Chronic stress also leads to other comorbidities like hypertension, hypothyroidism, obesity and depression, all of which can lead to a plethora of cardiac ailments. One way to alleviate stress is through regular physical activities or indulging in hobbies or activities that you like.  Make these small changes in your lifestyle to protect your heart!

(Disclaimer The writer is Prof (Dr) L Sreenivasa Murthy, Senior Consultant Physician and Diabetologist, Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bengaluru. The views expressed are personal opinion.)

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