Considered a disease of men, heart ailments are now affecting women equally. Women who have reached menopause and young women with multiple risk factors are equally likely to get heart disease and suffer strokes. It is very important to understand this and take preventive measures.
Here are five strategies to help you protect your heart. Adopt a healthy lifestyle today to avoid heart problems in future.
- Exercise for 30 minutes on most days of the week
Getting regular exercise can reduce your risk of a fatal heart disease. When you start maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater.
Keeping active can also reduce chances of other conditions that can put a further strain on your heart: High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also reduces stress, which may be a factor in heart disease.
If you can’t manage a 30-minute routine, don’t give up. Break up your workout time into 10-minute sessions. Even regular activities — cleaning house, gardening and walking the dog count.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products can help protect your heart. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish also can reduce risk of heart disease.
Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Of the various types of fat — saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fats — saturated fat and trans fat increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels.
Major sources of saturated fat include red meat, dairy products, coconut and palm oils. Sources of trans fat include deep-fried fast foods, bakery products, packaged snacks
Heart-healthy food doesn’t have to mean total denial. One mostly needs to add more fruits and vegetables – which not only helps prevent heart disease, but also may keep away cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, may decrease your risk of heart attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure. Some fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are a good natural source of Omega-3s.
Omega-3s are present in smaller amounts in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil and canola oil, and they can also be found in supplements.
- Maintain a healthy weight
When you gain weight in adulthood, it is mostly fat rather than muscle. This can lead to conditions that increase your chances of developing heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
One way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The BMI is not a perfect guide. It goes wrong in cases where women and men are very muscular. Since muscle weighs more than fat, they can have high BMIs but not the associated health risks. Hence, the circumference of your waist is also a useful tool to measure abdominal fat:
- Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm)
- Women are overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm)
Dropping inches by even 10% can decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.
- Get regular health screenings
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But you need to get yourself tested.
- Blood pressure: Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. In case of any abnormality, get more frequent checks. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
- Cholesterol levels: Cholesterol should be checked once every five years from the age of 20. You may need more frequent testing if the results are abnormal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease.
- Diabetes screening: Since diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, you need screening for it too. Depending on your risk factors – like excess weight or family history of diabetes — your doctor may recommend testing you sometime between ages 30 and 45, and then every three to five years.
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco
Tobacco is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. The chemicals in tobacco damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, which may eventually lead to a heart attack. When it comes to preventing heart disease, no amount of smoking is safe.
But when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops within a year – the benefits start the moment you quit.
The writer is Executive Director and Dean Cardiology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute