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What you need to know on how to avoid developing heart disease

Healthy Lifestyle Awareness Day is celebrated on February 22.

Healthy Lifestyle Awareness Day is celebrated on February 22.

Published Feb 21, 2022

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CAPE TOWN - About 80% of all heart diseases before the age of 65 can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle.

So says the Western Cape Department of Health, as looked back on Healthy Lifestyle Awareness this month.

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The province’s health department provides services to prevent, treat and manage heart conditions.

“We want to conceptually move away from an all-consuming curative paradigm of treating illness and disease to one of prevention, promotion and wellness,” says health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo.

“Our Healthcare 2030 strategy speaks to building resilient communities and a road to wellness. We can do all we can as the department. Ultimately, we all have to take responsibility for our own heart’s health and follow the guidelines to a healthy lifestyle.”

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Living healthy can assist in treating many types of heart conditions, including heart failure, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

Below are the factors that can help to prevent and control heart disease:

Exercise

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Lack of regular physical activity is a risk factor for many diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cancers, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD). In comparison to those who exercise regularly, inactive people double their risk of suffering a heart attack and have a higher risk of dying immediately after such an attack. The good news is that regular exercise can give you the most profound long-term health benefits.

How much physical activity is enough? If you’re inactive, doing anything is better than nothing! Studies show that those who have a low fitness level are much more likely to die early than people who have achieved even a moderate level of fitness. If you want to exceed a moderate level of fitness, you need to exercise at least five times a week for 30 to 60 minutes.

Healthy eating habits

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“Eating healthy is a very effective way of preventing heart conditions, and it’s a relatively easy adjustment in your lifestyle to try if you are concerned about your heart health,” explains Stephne van Schalkwyk, dietician for Matzikama Sub-district in the West Coast.

“Small changes to your diet can achieve great results and can assist with overcoming other factors contributing to heart diseases, like stress and obesity.”

The Heart and stroke foundation of South Africa has the following guidelines for a healthy diet:

Eat a healthy, balanced diet including a variety of foods.

Eat smaller, more regular meals.

Include at least five servings of vegetables and fruit every day.

Include fish as part of your diet at least twice a week. Good examples are: snoek, sardines, tuna, pilchards, mackerel and salmon.

Limit the intake of red meat to two to three times per week. Regularly include legumes (beans, peas, lentils and soya) as alternatives to meat.

Eat fats sparingly, limiting ‘bad’ fats, such as butter or fatty meat, and including more ‘good’ fats in your diet, such as vegetable oils (e.g. sunflower, canola or olive oil), soft tub margarine, avocados, nuts, peanut butter and seeds.

Limit intake of foods high in cholesterol like organ meats, calamari, shrimps and prawns.

Limit intake of refined and sugary foods and beverages.

Have at least two servings of low fat or fat-free milk/dairy products every day.

Use salt sparingly. Intake should be limited to 1 teaspoon a day (5g) – remember that processed foods, e.g. processed meats like viennas and polony, salty snacks such as chips and take-aways, also contain a lot of hidden salt.

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

Drink lots of water every day.

Make starchy foods, especially those rich in fibre and whole grains, part of most meals.

Excessive alcohol intake

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol increases blood pressure and causes increased levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood). It may also contribute to the development of obesity, diabetes, liver disease and sudden cardiac death.

If you are consuming alcohol, consumption should be limited to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. One drink is equal to 125ml wine, 340ml beer or 25ml of spirits or liqueur.

Smoking

Smoking almost triples the risk of heart disease. It narrows blood vessels and expands blood clots. Smoking also leads to increasing blood pressure, and increasing carbon monoxide levels and reducing oxygen levels. No amount of smoking is safe for heart health, and the benefits of quitting is not only for your heart’s health but also prevents cancer, including lung and throat cancer.

Stress

Stress has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease. While we can’t always escape stress, managing stress effectively is important for a healthy lifestyle. Often, we reach for unhealthy foods and snacks, skip our exercise, drink alcohol excessively and turn to smoking to help us deal with stress – all major risk factors for CVD! Fortunately, the benefits of lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, a healthy diet and giving up bad habits, like smoking and high alcohol intake, is not only good practices for a healthy heart but also reduce stress.

Obesity

Being overweight or obese puts you at higher risk for health problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, gallstones and degenerative joint disease. Obesity is caused mainly by taking in more calories (energy) in the diet than are used up in exercise and daily activities.

The westernised lifestyle promotes overweight and obese states. We are less active and eat more unhealthy foods, especially processed foods and take-outs. If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk by successfully losing weight and keeping it off.

Look out for these signs and symptoms of a heart attack:

Not all people experience the same symptoms when they suffer a heart attack. Sudden chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack. In some cases, mostly in women or people with diabetes, a heart attack can happen without any chest pain. Chest pain can also be caused by several other conditions that affect the stomach, chest wall, muscles or lungs. Ambulance staff or a doctor can do the necessary tests to find out if chest pain is caused by a heart attack.

Below are the common symptoms of a heart attack. You may experience only one or several of these symptoms during a heart attack. If you are in doubt, get checked out!

Symptoms of a heart attack:

An overwhelming sense of anxiety

Shortness of breath

Feeling light headed and dizzy

Abdominal pain, feeling sick, or vomiting

The pain can spread to your shoulders, arms, neck or jaw Sweating

Chest pain that could feel like pressure. tightness, discomfort or squeezing

Visit Western Cape Government Health’s WOW! Webpage at www.westerncape.gov.za/wow or contact the heart and stroke foundation at 021 447 6268, or call our Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (0860 1 43278).

Cape Times

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