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Take it to Heart

Today is World Heart Day. How could you not know? Indians are among those most vulnerable to heart disease . So here are 35 tips to keep your ticker ticking, even if you already think you’re doing everything right.

brunch Updated: Sep 28, 2013 17:56 IST
Kavita Devgan

Today is World Heart Day. How could you not know? Indians are among those most vulnerable to heart disease (the average age for an attack is 47 here, unlike 64 in the West). Cardio-vascular diseases are the top killers for those aged 25 to 69. Urban, rural, male, female – we’re just as prone. Some studies estimate that one in four of us will die of a heart disease. Let this Sunday be one where you, the big-hearted Indian, also becomes the smart-hearted one. Top docs offer their best tips, straight from the heart, to keep yours beating longer.


Keep teeth clean
"Chronic gum disease may lead to heart trouble as bacteria from infected gums often enter the bloodstream and attach to the fatty deposits in heart, leading to formation of clots," warns Dr Vivek Soni of DY Patil Dental College and Hospital, Mumbai. So brush twice a day.


Get a pet

Research by Dr Warwick Anderson and his team at Australia’s Baker Medical Research Institute suggests that pets help cut stress, regulate blood pressure and control triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Playing with your dog or simply watching your goldfish swim in his little bowl can slow your heart beat and lower shooting blood pressure.


Stay happy

A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology this June states that happy, cheerful people are less likely to be afflicted with heart issues. So if you don’t have a natural positive disposition, work consciously at developing one.

Exercise is non-negotiable
It boosts immunity, makes the arteries supple (bringing down BP), burns calories and helps develop alternate circulation routes to keep attacks at bay. “Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day (like running jogging, skipping, cross training etc),” advises Dr Ramakanta Panda, vice chairman and chief cardiovascular thoracic surgeon, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai.

Get musical
A study presented at this year’s European Society of Cardiology Congress in Amsterdam states that when you listen to music you enjoy, endorphins released from the brain improve your vascular health. Choose your music carefully though. Tunes that makes you anxious have the opposite effect.

Score enough D
People with the lowest Vitamin D levels are at more than twice the risk of dying from a heart disease compared to those who have the highest Vitamin D levels. Get out in the morning and let your body make some D.

Sleep enough
A team of Netherlands-based researchers have found that adding daily shut eye of seven hours or more to an already healthy lifestyle (regular exercise, good diet, no smoking and moderate alcohol drinking) results in a massive 65 per cent lowering of cardiovascular disease risk.

Take more naps
A 30-minute nap in the middle of the day may actually save your heart, according to a 2007 Greek study. Researchers found that a siesta helps lower stress levels and fends off heart disease. Find a couch and sign out for half an hour or put your head down on the office desk after every office meeting.

Nix alcohol
"Not only does it damage the liver [by increasing triglyceride levels], it also damages the heart muscles, weakening the heart’s pumping capacity," says Dr Panda. "If you must drink, draw the line at a single (30ml) serving for women and two drinks for men per day. Or switch to red wine (max 60 ml per day) to soak up its antioxidants."


Grapes aren’t sour
If you don’t like wine, chug grape juice or munch on a bunch of grapes. A study by the University of Connecticut (published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences) found that grapes contain the same powerful disease-fighting antioxidants that give wine its heart-friendly benefits. Just skip the added sugar.

Halt the salt
A little salt is wonderful, but even a little more than your daily requirement of five grams (or one teaspoon) is bad for your heart. It triggers high blood pressure, excess salt calcifies, scars and destroys the muscles, valves and arteries of the entire coronary route. Avoid processed foods – the biggest culprit – even if you have low BP.

Cut saturated fats
Butter, mayonnaise, pork, red meat, hydrogenated oils (vanaspati), cheese, full-fat milk are all high in saturated fats that elevate bad cholesterol, leading to plaque build-up in arteries.

Choose oil wisely
“Most oils have something going for them, either they’re high mono or poly unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA or PUFA), have a good Omega 3:Omega 6 ratio or contain antioxidants. The trick is to read the labels carefully and then choose a few and use by rotation, or opt for a good mix of two different types of oil,” says Dr Brian Pinto, chief cardiologist at Holy Family Hospital.

Trans fats are bad news
They raise your bad cholesterol and lower the good one. Refuse foods that contain hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil (packaged snacks, chips, bakery goods, cream biscuits and some margarines). Also cut down drastically on fried foods as frying ups the trans fat.

Enough with the coffee
“Keep a tab on how much caffeine you ingest (tea, coffee) as it is a vasodilator and may contribute to inflammation and even increase the heart rate,” says Dr Panda. “Draw the line at three cups per day,”

Change your cuppa
Make it green. A report in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation states that drinking green tea leads to improved blood flow around the body. So a couple of cups a day could go a long way to help your heart’s health.

Fight fizz
The caffeine content alone is bad for your heart. Research has also found that drinking two or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes, regardless of your weight.

Apple is A+
Everything you have heard about apples is right; it truly is a wonder fruit. Pectin, a form of soluble
fibre in apples helps lower cholesterol, and its natural antioxidants prevent bad cholesterol from oxidising. This reduces plaque formation in your arteries.

Mini medicine
Begin the day with a pod or two of raw garlic (crush them a bit for maximum benefit). They’re loaded with sulphide compounds, which cut cholesterol and clear out clogged arteries.

Go bananas
Need an antidote to all that heart damaging sodium you consume every day? Have a banana. It is loaded with potassium, which helps the body get rid of extra sodium, regulating blood pressure.


Target Omega 3
Eskimos, despite their high-fat diet, have a lower incidence of coronary heart disease than most other ethnic groups. How do they do it? The difference lies in the kind of fats they consume – largely Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils. Get your dose from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, surmai, and rohu. Vegetarian? Up your intake of walnuts, flaxseeds, methi and sarson.

Have tomatoes
Choose cooked tomatoes, as heat makes more antioxidants available. Plus as lycopene in them is fat-soluble, eating tomatoes with a little bit of oil helps improve its absorption.


Go whole

Fibre in whole grains helps cut the risk of heart disease as it binds bile acids (needed to make cholesterol) in the body and whisks bad cholesterol out of the body. So think brown rice instead of white, multi grain instead of white bread and have oats for breakfast.

Go nuts
Almonds can help lower your cholesterol and, according to study published by the researchers of Toronto University, also help reduce inflammation, both big risk factors for heart disease.

Reach for Spinach
Among veggies, it is second only to garlic in antioxidant capacity. It is rich in folic acid, which fights heart disease.

The difference makers

Test regularly
"Annual testing keeps a tab on your heart’s health. But besides the cholesterol test, also get a stress thallium or a stress eco test done; both pick up heart disease right up to 95 per cent," suggests Dr Panda.

Stop smoking
"Nicotine thickens the arteries, leading to cholesterol deposits and clotting, increasing the risk of heart disease. So the first thing to do to save your heart is to butt out," advises Dr Panda.

Get antioxidants
They lower the risk of heart disease. “Eat different colour fruits and vegetables as much as possible, one ideally in every meal,” recommends Dr Pinto. Up your dose of natural vitamin C (citrus fruits, amla, berries, tomato, peppers) and beta-carotene (orange, yellow, pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, mango, peach and spinach).

Measure your girth
“Instead of stepping on that weighing scale again and again, concentrate on shrinking your tummy as that is a bigger risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Aim for a waistline that is less than 35inch for women and 40inch for men. To measure correctly, start at the upper right hip bone, then pass the measuring tape around the abdomen,” says Dr S M Sadikot, consultant, endocrinology, diabetes and metabolic disorders at Jaslok Hospital.

Opt for a holistic approach
"Don’t just look at heart disease. There is a deadly multiplier effect of risks at work – if you smoke, the risk for a heart attack increases one and a half times. If you have high cholesterol and you smoke, it increases by three times. If you have high BP too, it increases by five times. If you add diabetes to the medley, it goes up a whopping 15 times," says Dr Seth

Mind it

Avoid stress pile up
“Chronic stress stiffens arteries which ups the risk of BP and diabetes,” points out Dr Panda. “When we feel stressed, the body produces two key hormones – epinephrine which increases heart rate and cortisol which raises blood pressure. And if your body constantly generates these hormones, it means you overwork your heart. And that increases the risk for heart attack.”

Breathe right!
Under stress, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and deprives the heart of oxygen. An effective antidote to reverse this oxygen-robbing tendency is to inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 10, then exhale for a count of 10. Remind yourself to breathe deeply every time you hear a phone ring in the office, you’ll kill stress right there!

Cool off
Carrying around anger and hostility is a big risk. A conclusion of several studies at Harvard Medical School revealed that the angriest men are three times more likely to develop heart disease than those who are calm.

Laugh out loud
Experts have known this since the early 1970s. According to Dr Ashima Puri, consultant psychologist, a good belly laugh improves emotional energy by increasing the secretion of mood-boosting endorphins, and also helps get the blood pressure down.

Meditate every day
“Just 15 minutes is good as it helps lower stress hormones, bolsters immunity and strengthens your heart. So say OM,” says Dr Puri.

From HT Brunch, September 29

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