Is Your Heart Safe

In January 2009, the Nature Genetics journal reported that the heart failure gene was seven times more common among the South East Asian population group. This group includes Indians as well.

With diabetes and hypertension – two of the commonest associated factors found in people prone to heart attacks – assuming epidemic proportions amongst Indians, protecting the heart has never been more important.

Coronary artery disease – or blockage in any of the branches of the coronary artery that supplies blood to the heart muscles – is a leading cause of mortality around the world. According to the World Health Organisation, of the 16.6 million deaths due to cardiovascular diseases, 80% occur in developing nations.

About 25% of all causes of deaths in India are attributable to heart diseases. The rate is slightly less among the rural population, probably due to a healthier lifestyle, which involves physical labour and being close to nature.

Why more women becoming prone to heart diseases

The prevalence of heart diseases is also slightly less among women in the reproductive age group, but women are fast catching up with the men’s numbers, owing to changes in diet and lack of exercise. The number of young victims who experience a heart attack in their 40s and 50s has also gone up.

Scary as these statistics are, there is always hope. Simple lifestyle modifications go a long way in offsetting the effects of the ‘heart attack gene’. Once again, prevention is better than cure. What can be done to prevent heart attacks in the first place? What can be done to protect the heart? Here are a few handy tips to achieve this:

The do’s and don’ts of heart health

  1. Needless to say, the associated conditions have to be kept under control.  Diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol levels should be addressed appropriately with medical and non-medical measures.  There are specific recommended levels for each of these conditions, which your health practitioner should be able to help you with.
  2. A regular check-up of your cardiac condition is a good idea.  Watch out for subtle signs of imminent danger such as tiring easily, fatigue, breathlessness, palpitations, etc.
  3. Reduce your alcohol intake and drink only in moderation.
  4. Stop smoking.  Yes, like it or not, smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  There are various strategies available to help you quit smoking – nicotine patches, gums, anti-craving tablets, etc.  Contact the local mental health services if you are determined to quit.  Also remember that passive smoking is as dangerous as smoking, and be considerate about the health of your fellow human beings.
  5. A balanced diet is really important, by which we mean a diet comprising carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals in recommended proportions.
  6. Antioxidant supplements with vitamins E, A, C and the B-complex are the latest fad, although they could be obtained as easily from a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables and nuts.  It is recommended that you take at least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day.  This has the added advantage of providing fibres, which make passage of food through the gut easier.
  7. Avoid cholesterol increasing food stuff.  This includes cutting down on some of our favourites like chips, fries, sweets, ghee, cream, butter and excess of non-vegetarian diet.  If you are taking statin tablets (cholesterol lowering agents), avoid taking grapefruit or grapefruit juice.
  8. Include essential fatty acids which produce omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your body.  Several studies have shown that these are beneficial for heart and brain health.  Animal sources of these fatty acids include oily fish – mackerel, fresh tuna, fresh trout and salmon contain the highest levels of omega-3.  If you are a vegetarian, fret not.  Rapeseed, walnut, soya, pecans, almonds, peanuts, flaxseed and linseed oils are as good a source of omega-3 as the non-vegetarian ones.
  9. Reduce obesity.  Calculate your BMI (body mass index = weight in kg divided by height in metre squared).  A healthy level is in between 21 to 25.  Anything higher than 25 means you are likely to be obese and need to reduce weight.
  10. Exercise regularly.  Apart from helping reduce weight, exercise brings about a sense of wellness and an active lifestyle.  Avoid sedentary habits; if your work involves sitting in your office chair from 9 to 5, make sure you give your body a good work-out regularly.  Any type of physical activity depending upon your choice and what works for you is good enough – this may include jogging, walking, treadmill, cycling, swimming, etc.
  11. Meditate and relax.  Studies have shown that inducing a sense of calm and being unperturbed go a long way in reducing hypertension and stress, and improving your heart health.  Again, whatever suits your constitution or helps you relax should be fine.  Yoga has the advantage of combining postural asanas which help tone the muscles, as well as breathing and meditative parts which relax the mind.
  12. Find yourself a compatible partner and socialise well.  Research has shown an association between being lonely and having heart attacks.  Even having pets around you and interacting with them is supposed to improve your heart condition.  By socialising we do not mean interacting through electronic gadgets and media; but actually going out and meeting relatives or friends.  Pick up a hobby, learn something new or join a group of like-minded individuals, all of which help bring about a sense of purpose and achievement, and an overall sense of well-being.

The heart of the matter is this: your heart matters a lot if you are to live a healthy, well-balanced life.  So make it a point to take care of one of the most vital organs in your body: your heart.

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