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Rediff.com  » Getahead » Beat heart disease risk while you're still young

Beat heart disease risk while you're still young

November 13, 2009 12:25 IST

As our lifestyle becomes more sedentary and based on fast foods, our risk of developing cardiovascular disease has been skyrocketing. Heart disease is the number one killer in many countries, but in the last few decades, India has emerged as the world capital for heart diseases. It has been estimated that Indians are nearly four times more susceptible to heart attacks than white Americans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India will account for 60 percent of the world's cardiac patients by 2010.

There are many different causes of heart disease. The most common cause of heart disease is narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart itself. This is called coronary artery disease and happens slowly over time. It's the major reason people have heart attacks. Other kinds of heart problems appear in the valves of the heart. If the heart is unable to pump blood effectively, heart failure can result. Some heart diseases are present at birth (congenital heart disease).

Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. They can also increase the chances that an existing disease will get worse. Important risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a family history of early heart disease

The good news is that your risk of heart disease can be greatly reduced with lifestyle modifications. These changes will also reduce your risk of other chronic diseases like diabetes and some cancers too.

Here are some ways you can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is the most preventable risk factor. Nicotine raises blood pressure and makes the blood clot more easily. Carbon monoxide robs the blood of oxygen and leads to the development of cholesterol deposits on the artery walls. All of these effects add up to an increased risk of heart attack.

Smoking accounts for about one in five deaths from cardiovascular disease, and smokers are more than twice at risk of suffering a heart attack. Non smokers who are exposed to constant smoke also have an increased risk. Quitting smoking is a difficult accomplishment but it significantly lowers your risk of developing heart disease. Long-term smokers can cut their risk of heart attack to equal that of non-smokers within just 2 years of stopping.

Exercise

While lack of exercise is bad for the whole body (and the mind), it's particularly bad for the heart. People who don't exercise have higher risk of heart disease compared to people who perform even mild to moderate amounts of physical activity.

Exercise increases HDL (good cholesterol), reduces LDL (bad cholesterol), improves insulin sensitivity, and lowers blood pressure. Any exercise that gets your heart rate up, makes you breathe a little faster, brings colour to your face and sweat to your brow can help your cholesterol levels. It's not just aerobic exercises (such as running, cycling swimming or brisk walking that gets your heart pumping faster) that help the heart, but newer research indicates that strength training may also help keep your cholesterol levels in healthy zones.

The ideal workout for your mind, body and especially your heart may well be a combination of all of these types of exercise. Mixing up your exercise lessens the likelihood that you will overuse any one body part and get injured, and also minimises boredom, which makes it more likely you will stick with your exercise programme. Try going for a brisk walk one day, lifting weights the next and taking a Tai Chi or yoga class the third day. Consult your doctor before starting any exercise programme.

Diet

Eating a balanaced diet low in salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and refined sugars not only lowers your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease, but helps unclog your arteries as well. Fruit, raw vegetables, whole grains, and lean cuts of fresh fish all promote a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.

Saturated fats and trans fats are not conducive to heart health. These types of fats have a deleterious effect on the smooth linings of the coronary arteries and increase heart disease risk. So avoid a diet high in these types of fats like fatty meats, greasy potato chips, french fries, and rich pastries. Stick to foods that are higher in mono-unsaturated types of fat like avocado, grilled fish, whole grains and nuts and legumes.

Limit your sugar intake. Excessive sugar intake increases heart disease risk. Refined sugar items, such as cookies, cakes, candy, and even white flour (maida) products interfere with insulin levels and promote higher triglyceride levels (a type of blood fat), which raise heart disease risk.

Fruits and vegetables are powerhouse foods that promote a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. The more fruits and vegetables that you add to your diet, the healthier your heart will be. Make sure that you eat your fruit and vegetables in as natural a state as possible -- that means no added butter, grease, or sugar.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight has repercussions far beyond where you buy your clothes. Excess weight puts significant strain on your heart and worsens several other heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides. Due to obesity, lot of fats gets deposited on the heart; that disturbs its functioning, leading to heart failure or stroke. By eating right and exercising, you can lose weight and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Manage Stress

Stress -- especially the chronic type you suffer with health, financial, or marital problems -- plays a critical role in your risk for heart disease. Stress can also raise your blood pressure and makes your blood more likely to clot. Learn to manage stress by practicing relaxation techniques, setting realistic goals and learning how to manage your time. Meditation and yoga are also great ways to lower stress levels.

Last but not the least, controlling diabetes and blood pressure and high cholesterol are very important. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, triglycerides), and blood glucose. Work with your doctor to improve any numbers that are not normal.

While certain risk factors cannot be changed, it is important to realise that you do have control over many others. Regardless of your age, background, or health status, you can lower your risk of heart disease.


LifeMojo is a wellness company, helping people to live a healthier life. LifeMojo provides online and on phone nutrition consultation services to help you achieve your weight loss and fitness goals.