Keep a safe heart

Last Updated 28 August 2015, 20:01 IST

While we can do little to alter certain risk factors like age and family history for preventing heart diseases, lifestyle changes can make a world of difference, asserts Dr Uday B Khanolkar.

Heart diseases may be the leading cause of death in both men and women, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it as inevitability. Although one lacks the power to change some risk factors such as family history or age,  there are some key precautionary measures one can take for prevention. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be complicated. Find ways to include certain habits into your lifestyle at the earliest, keep stress away and you may well enjoy a healthier life for years to come:

Exercise well
Regularly participating in moderately vigorous physical activity can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. Exercise helps you control your weight and can reduce your chances of developing conditions that may put a strain on your heart. You should, however, see your doctor before starting any exercise regimen, if two or more of the following criteria apply to you:

You have a family history of heart disease before age 55.
You have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
You smoke or you quit smoking in the past six months.
You’re overweight or obese.

Eat healthy

Eat foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt. Of the types of fat – saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat – saturated fat and trans fat
increase the risk of heart disease by raising blood cholesterol level. Major sources of saturated fat include beef, butter, cheese, milk, and coconut and palm oils. There’s growing evidence that trans fat may be worse than saturated fat because unlike saturated fat, it raises both your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “ bad,”
cholesterol, and lowers your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. Sources of trans fat include deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snack foods and margarines.

Set your target

Most people should aim for an HDL level of 60 mg/dL or above. An HDL level below 40 mg/dL increases the risk of heart disease. Your target LDL values can vary, depending on your underlying risk of heart disease. Most people should aim for an LDL level below 130 mg/dL. If you have other risk factors for heart disease, your target LDL may be below 100 mg/dL. If you’re at very high risk of heart disease (already had a heart attack in the past, have diabetes or peripheral vascular disease), you may need to aim for an LDL level below 70 mg/dL

Raise the good cholesterol
Low level of HDL best predicts the risk of heart disease, even when the total
cholesterol is within the normal range. Measures for raising HDL levels include weight loss and omega-3 supplementation. But even more important than diet and weight loss is regular aerobic exercise. And the duration of the exercise rather than the intensity appears to have the biggest influence.

Lower the bad cholesterol

Use small amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils (e.g. olive, sunflower and safflower) instead of butter and other animals fats.
Cut fat off meat.

Avoid red meat (mutton, beef and pork).
Remove skin from chicken.
Use low-fat milk (less than two per cent fat ).
Avoid deep-fried foods. Grill, boil, steam, bake or microwave rather than fry. Minimise your intake of bakery products.

Prevent onset of diabetes

Diabetes screening should ideally start in the 20s, especially if you’re at increased risk – for example, if you’re overweight or have a family history of the disease.
Diabetes prevention is as basic as losing extra weight and eating healthy food.
Get more physical activity: It lowers blood sugar and boosts your sensitivity to insulin – which helps keep your blood sugar within a normal range.

Get plenty of fibre:

It may improve your blood sugar control. No fads: Include more whole grains; skip fad diets. By excluding or limiting a particular food group, you may be giving up essential nutrients. Instead think variety.

Prevent hypertension:
Blood pressure checks should start in the 20s. To keep your blood pressure down use less salt and if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

Maintain a healthy weight
Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. In general, men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches. And women, in general, are overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 36 inches. Reducing your weight by just 10 per cent can decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.

Get regular health checks 

Screening is also an important way to prevent heart disease. High cholesterol has no symptoms, but your genetic makeup — reflected in family history of high cholesterol or heart disease — might make you more prone to the condition, even if you eat right and exercise. Everyone who is 25 years and older should have their cholesterol screened and should also be screened for diabetes. Adults should have their cholesterol and sugar measured at least once every two years. More frequent testing is needed  if your values  aren’t optimal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease.

Don’t use tobacco products

Smoking or using other tobacco products is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes are also risky, as is passive smoking.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, many of these can
damage heart and blood vessels, making them more vulnerable to narrowing of the arteries. The good news, though, is that when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

(The author is senior consultant cardiologist, Narayana Health City, Bengaluru)

(Published 28 August 2015, 13:58 IST)

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