Tsimane (pronounced chee-mah-nay) people from the Amazon rainforest have the healthiest heart of any population ever studied and are five times less likely to have clogged and hardened arteries that raise the risk of heart attacks than the US population.
The research, published in The Lancet, found that the health of the arteries of an 80-year-old Tsimane was similar to an American in their mid-50s. Almost nine out of 10 – of the more than 700 over 45 years – Tsimane studied had clear arteries, indicating that had no risk of heart disease.
The Tsimane people are a highly active tribe in Bolivia that live off the land, spending their day hunting, foraging and fishing, which is their main source of nutrition. Their diet is low in saturated fats and high in non-processed fibre-rich carbohydrates from wild rice, plantain, cassava root, corn, nuts and fruits. Animal meat, mostly monkeys, toucans and wild pig (peccary), accounts for 14% of their diet.
Since it’s not possible for any of us to move to the Amazon and spend our days picking berries and hunting monkeys, we can try to mimic the Tsimane community’s way of life to reduce our heart and stroke risk.
Lifestyle factors – such as an inactivity, unhealthy diet and smoking – account for more than 90% of our risk of heart disease and stroke risks, which are the biggest cause of death in India, accounting for one in four of all deaths in the country, shows data from the Global Burden of Disease.
Controlling seven independent risk factors – including smoking, inactivity, diet, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight, and diabetes – can prevent or delay heart disease by at least a decade or two even in people with a family history (when your father, mother, brother or sister have heart disease before age 40 years).
The Tsimane diet consists of 14% protein, 14% fat and 72% fibre-rich carbohydrate from unprocessed and natural sources, including corn and starchy roots, found the study.
Unhealthy food is the biggest risk to India’s health, shows GDB data. Modern Indian diets are high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fats, including cholesterol found in meats, poultry and dairy, all of which add weight and lead to narrowing and hardening of the arteries.
A healthy diet includes plenty of vegetables, whole fruits (not fresh, unsweetened juices), unrefined wholegrains, fish, pulses and legumes (daals), nuts, seeds and unsaturated oils such as mustard, olive, sunflower, corn and rapeseed. Avoid processed food that is usually high in unhealthy fats, sugar, sodium and preservatives.
If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation – not more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
Quitting smoking halves your chances of having a heart attack. Even young smokers are at risk of heart disease and stroke a decade earlier than those who have never smoked. Women smokers who take oral contraceptive pills increase their chances of having a stroke manifold. Inhaling secondhand smoke raises stroke risk by 20 to 30%, says the American Heart Association.
Tsimane were found to be very active during their waking hours, spending less than 10% of daylight hours sitting or lying down.
You must take 8,000-10,000 steps a day, which translates into 6.5 to 8km. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity (walking at 6km/min) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (running, playing football) or a combination of both a week.
Activity helps burn fat and keep your weight healthy. Inactive, overweight and obese children are three to five times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke before they reach the age of 65 than their peers with a healthy weight.
A waist size larger than 38 inches for men and 35 inches for women can lead to the metabolic syndrome, which is characterised by a group of risk heart factors such as diabetes, high-blood pressure, elevated trigycerides, low good “HDL” cholesterol, bad “LDL” cholesterol, and high inflammation (C-reactive protein in the blood).
You’re living life right, your weight is healthy and your blood pressure below 130/80 mmHg. Heart-protecting HDL must be over 45 mg/dl for men and over 55 mg/dl for women. An HDL level of more than 60 mg/dl cancels out one of the other risk factors. Low LDL must be less than 100 mg/dl. Triglycerides, which are a type of blood fat, must be below 150 mg/dl.
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