September marks Heart Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about cardiovascular disease. According to World Health Organization (WHO), Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year.
There are several things that can leave you at risk for developing heart disease and strokes. These may include an unhealthy diet, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking and drinking too much alcohol. Some people are also at increased risk of heart disease or stroke because of genetics (family history), other health conditions like blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol or just because of aging. You can’t do anything about some of these risk factors but it’s still never too late to start changing your lifestyle to help yourself towards a healthier heart. We look some of the different ways you can take better care of your heart this September and beyond.
- Eat healthy
We understand that convenience is key, so many people turn to quick and processed foods which are delicious and fast. But they’re also often bad for your heart. Processed foods usually contain high levels of sodium (salt), nitrates and phosphates which all have a negative impact on your heart. Eat a variety of foods to obtain a range of different nutrients for overall health benefits such as fruits, lean meats, fish, vegetable and legumes, starch and dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt). Always remember to choose your portion size with caution and always consider healthy cooking methods such as grilling, braising, roasting, searing and steaming. Spend more time and thought on your meals and where possible try to prepare your meals from fresh, whole foods rather than using pre-packed, processed or ready meals.
- Check your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol level regularly
Is it important to have your blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol levels checked regularly. Most people don’t show any symptoms even if they already have high blood pressure or high sugar or high cholesterol. All three are silent conditions which, if you don’t realise you have them and are not on treatment, can hurt your heart. You also need to be honest with your doctor if you have lifestyle risk factors such as an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, use of tobacco and alcohol, so they can help you plan the lifestyle that will help you get your heart back on track.
If you are overweight, or obese (both very common amongst South Africans) you can speak to your Yellow Dot Doctor about help to lose weight. This is another important step towards a healthy heart.
Smoking is one of the most powerful risk factors that a person has control over. If you are a smoker, you are at between 2-4 times greater risk of developing heart disease or stroke. One of the best things you can do to support your heart health is quit smoking. Ask your Yellow Dot Doctor for advice on how to do this. Seeking support can help you quit.
- Get off your butt
Physical activity improves health and reduces the risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as heart diseases. Being active is any body movement that works your muscles and requires more energy than resting. Be active by doing at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise such as skipping rope, dancing to music, brisk walking and running 3-4 times a week. We are aware that gym can be expensive, and some people do not have the time to go. There are tons of videos on YouTube where trainers have shared free home workouts and exercises that one can do. If you find it difficult to exercise on your own, try to buddy up with someone else who is trying to improve their lifestyle and start exercising together.
- Replace sugary drinks with water
The body uses water to help regulate its temperature and maintain other bodily functions. The body loses water through breathing, sweating, and digestion, it’s important to rehydrate by drinking fluids and eating food that contain water. Drink about 6-8 glasses of water a day. Drink a glass before each meal or have water with a meal, replace other drinks with water and carry a water bottle throughout the day. You can also increase your water intake by eating water rich foods e.g. fruits and vegetables daily and add citrus fruit e.g. lemons, other fruit or mint to improve the taste of your water. Sugary drinks taste great but are not so good for your health. Try to cut down and just enjoy them now and then for a treat. Many alcoholic beverages also have a high sugar content so, if you think you currently drink too much, see if you can cut back on this too.
Speak to your Yellow Dot Doctor about checking your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol level.