The heart is often regarded as the most important organ in the body. It is a muscular organ about the size of the fist. It is called a pump because it pumps blood through every part of the body. If the heart fails, it can result in an untimely death.
Situated slightly left of the chest, the heart is divided into the right and the left sides. The division between the two sides prevents oxygen-rich blood from mixing with oxygen-poor blood. Oxygen-poor blood returns to the heart after circulating through the body.
Meanwhile, heart disease, interchangeably used with cardiovascular disease, has been identified as the number one cause of death in both men and women.
According to the World Heart Federation and World Health Organisation, CVD is the leading cause of death and disability in the world, killing 17.5 million people a year.
The organisations said around 80 per cent of these deaths were in low- and middle-income countries like Nigeria, where human and financial resources were least able to address the CVD burden.
By 2030, the WHF and WHO said almost 23.6 million people might die from CVDs, mainly from heart failure and stroke.
However, the statistics do not call for panic as cardiologists have said the many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.
It’s only important to look out for the warning signs as soon as possible in order to prevent further complications, they said.
For instance, CVD symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, extreme fatigue and angina, which is a condition marked by severe pain in the chest, often also spreading to the shoulders, arms and neck, owing to an inadequate blood supply to the heart.
According to Turkish-American cardiothoracic surgeon and television personality, Dr Mehmet Öz, cardiovascular diseases can sometimes be found early with regular evaluations.
He recommended the following 10 tips to prevent heart disease.
- Aim for six to eight hours of sleep
Men who sleep for less than five hours a day are twice at risk of developing heart disease than those who get seven to eight hours.
Sleep helps to regulate insulin activity and lack of sleep causes the cells to be more resistant to insulin, which results in higher blood sugar and may contribute to weight gain and heart disease.
Öz said exhaustion was another symptom of heart disease often ignored in women.
“If you notice that you’re persistently exhausted, even after sleeping well, consult your doctor,” he said.
- Drop some weight
Your weight matters, but your waistline can be an even better indicator of your heart health. According to Öz, women with waistlines over 35 inches and men whose waistlines measure over 40 inches are at increased risk of heart disease.
“Studies show that losing even just five to ten per cent of your weight can significantly improve your heart health. And 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times a week will help to strengthen your heart and reduce high cholesterol and high blood pressure, especially if combined with a Mediterranean diet,” the cardiothoracic surgeon stated.
- Laugh a lot
Laughter truly is the best medicine, according to Öz.
“Your body responds to laughter by lowering levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Having lower levels of stress and cortisol can decrease your blood pressure and help boost your mood and immunity,” he said.
“Studies show that individuals with heart disease who are depressed are twice as likely to have life-threatening health issues, so make sure to add a dose of laughter to your life every day!”
- Drink a glass of red wine or beer daily
You may have heard that drinking one glass of red wine a day can improve heart because it is rich in antioxidants that may lower cholesterol.
“But did you know beer helps, too?” Öz asked. “Just be careful not to overdo it; too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure, high triglycerides, heart failure, arrhythmias and heart muscle damage. If you don’t drink, it’s not recommended that you start.”
- Chew 325mg aspirin pill
Heart attacks happen when cholesterol plaques inhibit blood flow in the blood vessels that feed the heart.
“Aspirin works by blocking certain chemicals like thromboxane, which is naturally produced to clot blood. If you or someone you know is having symptoms of a heart attack, chewing – not swallowing – 325 mg of aspirin as soon as possible could help break up the blockage and restore blood flow to your heart,” Öz stated.
- Visit your doctor
Öz recommended knowing your family history as it could help you stay on track with your heart health.
“If anyone in your immediate family has faced heart problems, your risk for developing cardiovascular issues increases. Make sure your doctor knows about your family history,” Öz said.
For instance, the cardiothoracic surgeon said African-American women were at higher risk of multiple health conditions that contribute to cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
He said, “Heart disease is easier to treat when detected early, so talk to your doctor about your concerns regarding your heart health. If you’re concerned about developing heart disease, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to reduce your heart disease risk. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease.”
- Regular sex can boost heart health
Engaging in stress-reducing activities is one of the most natural ways to improve heart health. According to Öz, studies have shown that regular sexual activity reduces blood pressure. Having sex at least twice weekly has been linked to a substantial decrease in heart disease risk in men.
- Reduce salt intake
Salt is easily one of the most overlooked ingredients when looking at nutritional facts. High sodium is a big contributor to high blood pressure and increases the workload for the heart, which can lead to heart disease. Monitor your sodium intake, especially if you are over 50 years old. If you have high blood pressure, cutting out one teaspoon a day could send you on your way to better heart health.
- Quit smoking
Nicotine constricts your blood vessels and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in non-smokers, Öz noted.
- Eat healthily, practise good hygiene
A diet that is high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease, likewise poor hygiene. Not regularly washing your hands and not establishing other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition. Poor dental health also may contribute to heart disease.
Also speaking to Punch correspondent, a cardiologist at the Mayriamville Medical Centre, Lagos, Dr Olayinka Hassan, said heart disease was primarily caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.
Making recommendations on ways to prevent heart disease, the cardiologist advised Nigerians to “avoid smoking, eat good food and pay attention to family health history.”
Hassan said obesity was a risk factor for heart disease. He, therefore, recommended shedding some weight.
“Shed weight as much as possible, exercise for about 30 minutes daily. Eat lots of fish and vegetables and less of burgers and other snacks,” he said.
“Alcohol and psycho-stimulants are dangerous. Also make sure you check your cardiovascular status once a year,” Hassan added.