According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA), up to 80% of cardiovascular disease-related deaths in young people, are preventable through a healthy diet. This makes heart health vital from young to old.
If you are scratching your head wondering why you should care, heart disease knows no discrimination, says Khayelitsha’s Dr Manduleli Bikitsha.
“Heart disease affects people of all ages and genders due to factors such as genetics and a healthy lifestyle,” Bikitsha explains.
According to Professor Pamela Naidoo, chief executive officer of HSFSA, heart disease does not begin and end with a heart attack.
Other conditions includes:
- Heart arrhythmias: Irregular heartbeats that can be caused by blocked arteries or other heart conditions.
- Congenital heart disease: Structural or functional impairment of the heart present from birth.
- Heart valve diseases: Most are present from birth or due to recurring episodes of infections like rheumatic fever.
- Heart attacks: When there are plaques blocking/narrowing blood vessels.
- Heart failure: Commonly caused by other pre-existing conditions e.g. high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes, heart valve diseases.
Causes of heart disease
Naidoo says there are various factors that contribute to heart attacks and other heart diseases.
“Age also plays a role in increasing the risk of heart disease. The functioning of the heart, its walls and blood vessels, deteriorates or becomes weaker, thus exposing one to heart diseases.”
Other factors that lead to poor heart health includes:
- High salt and sugar diets
- Fatty foods
- Alcohol consumption
- Recreational and illicit drug use
How you can lower risks
Naidoo advises people to have their blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI) measurements taken, as a precautionary measure for heart attacks.
She recommends medical annual check-ups and underscores the need for regular exercise as something to take note of. She encourages at least 150 minutes per week, which can be broken down into 30 minutes per day, a well-balanced diet, quitting smoking, lowering alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy body weight.”
Foods to improve heart health
Gauteng-based registered dietician, Michelle Hawksworth, says it is important to focus on eating fruits and vegetables every day, making lean protein choices and using herbs to flavour food instead of salt.
“Avoid processed foods as the sodium content is high; rather focus on whole foods,” she says.
She adds that some foods that aren’t recommended for heart health include salt and foods high in fat. An increase in salt can increase our blood pressure; an increase in blood pressure increases our risk for heart attacks or strokes.
“Foods high in fat can increase our cholesterol levels and result in a build-up of cholesterol in our arteries. This increases the risk of the arteries getting blocked and causing a heart attack or stroke,” says Hawksworth.
Keep it lean, clean and green, she says.
Chill and keep your heart in check
Cape Town clinical psychologist, Banetsi Mphunga, says that stress management plays a vital role in people living with heart conditions. He recommends taking a chill pill now and then through regular outings.
“That is where people can relax, listen to music, read selected books on self-help, meditation, and practise yoga,” he advises.
“I always recommend having a journal where you can reflect on what is good in your life. And journaling assists in linking your emotions to the environment, or what has happened, as well as how your body reacted to that stimulant.”
Mphunga notes that it is always great to walk away from unnecessary situations.
“If you are more likely to be triggered, stay away from current affairs, and sometimes radio, or mainstream and social media.”