Health

Health: 4 Effective Ways of Preventing Heart Disease

A Kampala-based lawyer this week collapsed and died.

It was later established that he suffered a heart condition which he was not aware of.

The postmortem report indicates that the lawyer succumbed after a progressive blockage of the main artery that pumps the blood into the heart.

The medical term is Ischemic Heart Disease or Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).

This situation arises when your coronary arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.

These arteries supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood.

Over time, fatty material called atheroma can build up inside the walls of your arteries.

The School of Public Health at Harvard University recently published a report, showing steps for the primordial prevention of heart disease.

Four key lifestyle steps can dramatically reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular risk factors and ultimately heart disease:

1. Not smoking

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One of the best things you can do for your health is to not use tobacco in any form. Tobacco use is a hard-to-break habit that can slow you down, make you sick, and shorten your life. One way it does this is by contributing to heart disease.

In fact, researchers examining the relationship between cigarette smoking and smoking cessation on mortality during a decades-long perspective study of over 100,000 women found that approximately 64% of deaths among current smokers and 28% of deaths among former smokers were attributable to cigarette smoking.

This study also reported that much of the excess risk due to smoking may be drastically lowered after quitting. Additionally, the excess risk for all-cause mortality—that is, death from any cause—decreases to the level of a “never-smoker” 20 years after quitting.

The nicotine that tobacco products deliver is one of the most addictive substances around. That makes tobacco use one of the toughest unhealthy habits to break. But don’t get discouraged; many smokers do quit! In fact, in the United States today there are more ex-smokers than smokers.

2. Maintaining a healthy weight

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Excess weight and an extra-large waist size both contribute to heart disease, as well as a host of other health problems.

In a study of over one million women, body-mass index (BMI) was a strong risk factor for coronary heart disease. The incidence of coronary heart disease increases progressively with BMI.

In the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, middle-aged women and men who gained 11 to 22 pounds after age 20 were up to three times more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and gallstones than those who gained five pounds or fewer.

  • Those who gained more than 22 pounds had an even greater risk of developing these diseases.

Weight and height go hand-in-hand. The taller you are, the more you weigh. That’s why researchers have devised several measures that account for both weight and height. The one most commonly used is BMI.

  • You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared (kg/m2). You can also use an online BMI calculator or BMI table.
  • A healthy BMI is under 25 kg/m2. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9 kg/m2, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 kg/m2
  • Waist size matters, too. In people who are not overweight, waist size may be an even more telling warning sign of increased health risks than BMI. An expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health identified these useful benchmarks: Men should aim for a waist size below 40 inches (102 cm) and women should aim for a waist size below 35 inches (88 cm).

3. Exercising

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Exercise and physical activity are excellent ways to prevent heart disease and many other diseases and conditions, but many of us get less activity as we get older.

  • Getting regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. It lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers, and it can also help control stress, improve sleep, boost mood, keep weight in check, and reduce the risk of falling and improve cognitive function in older adults.
  • It doesn’t take marathon training to see real health gains. A 30-minute brisk walk five days of the week will provide important benefits for most people. Getting any amount of exercise is better than none.
  • Exercise and physical activity benefit the body, while a sedentary lifestyle does the opposite—increasing the chances of becoming overweight and developing a number of chronic diseases.
  • Research shows that people who spend more time each day watching television, sitting, or riding in cars have a greater chance of dying early than people who are more active. A 2013 study showed that, among women ages 50-79 with no cardiovascular disease at the start of study, prolonged sitting time was associated with increased heart disease risk regardless of the amount of time spent in leisure-time physical activity.

4. Following a healthy diet

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For years, research into connections between diet and heart disease focused on individual nutrients like cholesterol (and foods high in dietary cholesterol, like eggs), types of fats, and specific vitamins and minerals. This work has been revealing, but it has also generated some dead ends, along with myths and confusion about what constitutes a heart-healthy diet. That’s because people eat food, not nutrients.

  • The best diet for preventing heart disease is one that is full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, and vegetable oils; includes alcohol in moderation, if at all; and goes easy on red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, foods and beverages with added sugar, sodium, and foods with trans fat.
  • People with diets consistent with this dietary pattern had a 31% lower risk of heart disease, a 33% lower risk of diabetes, and a 20% lower risk of stroke.
  • A randomized controlled trial found that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, both rich sources of unsaturated fat, reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events amongst patients with cardiovascular disease over a 4.8-year follow-up period.
    • This study highlighted that low-fat diets are not beneficial to heart health, and that incorporating healthy fats – such as those included in the Mediterranean diet –  can improve heart health and weight loss.
    • There isn’t one exact Mediterranean diet, as this eating style takes into account the different foods, eating patterns, and lifestyles in multiple countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. However, there are similarities that define a Mediterranean eating pattern, including: high intake of olive oil, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and cereals; moderate intake of fish and poultry; low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation, consumed with meals.
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