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Four ways to a healthy heart

It’s never too late to protect your heart, even if you are middle-aged and no longer the fit young thing you used to be, writes Sanchita Sharma.

health and fitness Updated: Jun 29, 2007 05:14 IST

It’s never too late to protect your heart, even if you are middle-aged and no longer the fit young thing you used to be. All you have to do is adopt four healthy habits — eating at least five fruits and vegetables daily, exercising at least 2.5 hours a week, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. Following this regimen reduces the risk of heart disease by over one-third, reports a study in The American Journal of Medicine.

HAVE A HEART

The four rules to keep your heart healthy and disease-free:
Eat right
Your daily diet should include at least five fresh fruits and vegetables and be low on fried/processed foods and refined sugar.
Work out
A minimum 2.5 hours of exercise a week will keep the doctor and heart disease away.
Watch your weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is important as obesity leads to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which individually boost the risk of heart disease.
Kick the butt
Stop smoking. It increases the risk of clot formation in the blood, which can block arteries and cause a heart attack even in healthy people.

The study finds that heart risk is lowered by 35 per cent and death due to heart attack by 40 per cent in people between 45 and 64 years who start leading a healthier life. The benefits are there even for those who lead a decadent life till they decide to turn over a new leaf and tread the path to health.

Experts say heart-protective benefits begin the moment a person starts making healthy choices. A balanced diet means eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, few fried and processed foods and less refined sugar.

“The nutritional plan for a healthy heart is eating less of saturated fats like butter and more of oils such as olive and mustard oils; eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day; six or more servings of wholegrains such as wheat and brown rice; low-fat milk products; legumes and beans; and fish and lean meats,” says Dr Purshotam Lal, director and chief cardiologist, Metro Heart Institute. One serving is a cupful of uncooked food and half a cup of cooked food.

Since making diet changes are not enough to keep the heart healthy, people need to exercise more, watch their weight and stop smoking. “Smoking increases the risk of clot formation in the blood, which can block arteries and cause a heart attack even in healthy people. A review of heart disease incidences in 21 countries reported in the journal Tobacco Control showed smokers had a five times greater risk of heart attack than non-smokers,” says Dr Kasliwal.

“A major risk factor for heart disease is obesity as it perpetuates a chain of risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, each of which individually boosts the risk of heart disease. Keeping the body mass index (BMI) between 22 and 23 — a little lower than the recommended cut-off of 25 — lowers a person’s heart risk substantially,” says Dr Lal. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the height in metres squared.