In a concerning revelation by the World Health Organization, South Africa has been termed as having one of the unhealthiest populations globally.
South Africans between the ages of 30 and 70 have a 26% chance of suffering and dying prematurely from non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and lifestyle-related disorders.
According to a 2020 Foods Refreshment Report by Unilever, the dietary habits of South Africans mostly include starch and meat, with a stark deficiency in vegetable intake. The data shows that while meat is on average consumed four times a week, many indulge in it almost daily.
Dangerously, red meat, which is a significant part of the South African diet, is known to raise the risks of cancer and heart disease.
The breakdown of the daily diet in South Africa consists of 41% starch, 26% meat, 13% vegetables, 9% oils, 8% dairy and a meagre 3% legumes.
Discovery, South Africa's largest medical insurer, echoing these health concerns, reports that cardiometabolic conditions, caused by high blood pressure, abnormal blood glucose, and obesity, have resulted in claims more than tripling since 2020, noting a 200% increase in claims in 2022.
Globally, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), which include heart disease and stroke, are the leading cause of death, according to the World Heart Federation.
These diseases are largely preventable, yet they continue to claim one in three deaths worldwide.
South Africa's struggle with CVDs mirrors this global crisis.
Lifestyle choices among South African adults contribute to these bleak statistics. Eighteen per cent of the population smokes tobacco, while on average, 11 litres of pure alcohol are consumed per person.
Additionally, one in three (33.7%) adults suffers from hypertension — a primary risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
While certain risk factors for these diseases are beyond individual control, it is evident that lifestyle choices play a critical role in determining health outcomes.
Experts suggest that by making conscious decisions to improve diet, exercise regularly, and avoid harmful substances like tobacco and excessive alcohol, individuals can substantially reduce the risk of developing these life-threatening conditions.
For the most part, the average person can significantly reduce their risk of heart disease with simple lifestyle changes, like the few steps detailed here.
Health tips below:
Take a daily walk
Health experts have long established the benefits of cardiovascular exercise as a primary defence against heart disease, and according to recent research, something as accessible as a daily walk could be a game-changer.
Regular walking has been recognised for its ability to reduce the risk of heart conditions, proving its effectiveness alongside more vigorous exercises like jogging or biking.
Eat heart-healthy foods
When it comes to diet, the mantra "eat healthy to be healthy" couldn't be more true. Proper nutrition, adequate sleep, sufficient hydration, and regular physical activity are the cornerstones of both physical and emotional well-being.
To boost heart health, experts advise a diet plentiful in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, fish, and oils — all of which have a direct impact on improving heart functions.
Remember, for those who can't always get fresh produce, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are just as beneficial.
Limit foods linked to heart disease
On the flip side, several foods have direct links to heart disease. However, caution is advised when it comes to certain foods. Limiting the intake of high-fat and high-sugar snacks like potato chips and pre-packaged desserts can make a difference.
The same goes for heavily processed goods, including fast food, processed meats, and boxed snacks, which often contain heart-harming ingredients.
It's common knowledge by now that smoking is just plain bad for health. Your heart is no exception. According to the Food and Drug Administration, cigarette smoking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
Smoking impairs your cardiovascular system in a few ways: It leads to plaque build-up in your arteries, changes your blood chemistry thickens blood, and permanently damages your heart muscle.
Limit alcohol intake
We're not here to tell you that you can't enjoy your favourite cocktail or crack a cold one on game day, but we'd be missing the mark if we didn't mention the consequences of excess alcohol consumption.
Enjoying an occasional drink is fine, but overconsumption can lead to a string of issues for the heart and other body systems.
Specific cardiovascular diseases linked to excessive alcohol use include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease and stroke.
Reduce your stress
Stress can have a significant impact on heart health, both in the short term and over time.
When a person experiences stress, their body responds by releasing hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, which can elevate heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increase levels of inflammation and constrict blood vessels.
These physical responses can put additional strain on the heart and circulatory system.
Knowledge is power. Understanding the factors that increase heart disease risk and how lifestyle influences your heart health can be a moment between life and death.
Routine blood pressure and cholesterol screenings to identify any potential risk factors for heart disease.