What is making young hearts weak?
Experts blame Covid-19, WFH-induced stress and excessive workouts for the alarming rise in heart attacks among young people. Give your life a healthy, holistic overhaul, they advise.
When actor Sushmita Sen revealed on Instagram that she had suffered a massive heart attack, she left her fans and industry peers in shock. Despite having an active lifestyle, the 47-year-old had 95% blockage in her main artery and had to undergo angioplasty.
Such cases of relatively younger people suffering sudden and silent heart attacks, without any clear underlying cause, are only growing in number. While unhealthy lifestyle, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, smoking and genetics are some known culprits, research and anecdotal evidence now point to a new entrant — Covid-19 and its long-term impact on the heart.
According to a 2022 study by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, deaths from heart attack across all age groups have become more common in the US after Covid-19. People between 25 and 44 have seen a 29.9% increase in heart attack deaths over the first two years of the pandemic.
Closer home too, doctors have made a similar observation. Dr Moshin Wali, cardiologist, and senior consultant at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, says, “After Covid-19, there has been a 20% increase in the number of younger people suffering from heart attacks. This is because of Covid-resultant clotting.” Adding to this, Dr. Gajinder Kumar Goyal, director of cardiology, Marengo Asia Hospitals, shares, “Covid-19 has shown to increase plaque rupture in coronary arteries and cause damage to heart muscles.” Pandemic-induced work-from-home stress, sedentary lifestyles and obesity are added factors.
Young Indians at an increased risk
Heart attacks, among Indians, can occur at least a decade before their Western counterparts. Experts say earlier, the average age group of patients used to be between 55 and 65. “But now, patients in their 20s and 30s are suffering from myocardial infarction,” says Dr Vishal Rastogi, director, interventional cardiology and head, advanced heart failure program, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.
Heart attack in a young person can often be misunderstood as acidity or muscle pain. This is worrying, says Dr Rastogi, as heart attacks can be even more catastrophic in the young because their heart is unprepared for this sudden block and no natural collateral channels exist.
“Warning signs such as central chest pain or heaviness, pain in jaw, left arm or upper abdomen and cold sweats must not be ignored,” says Dr Rastogi.
Are excessive workouts to blame?
While Sen credited working out regularly as one of the things that helped her survive the heart attack, experts say moderation is key. “A lot of people have become health conscious during the pandemic and have started exercising excessively. They may have underlying blocks unknown to them, which manifest as heart attack when they exercise. Before hitting the gym, people should get their heart checked to understand if they can withstand heavy exercise,” advises Dr Rastogi.
One should assess underlying factors like diabetes or high BP that can trigger a heart attack upon excessive exercising. Dr. Sanjeev Gera, director, cardiology, Fortis Hospital, adds, “Those who have been static for a long time must get an exercise prescription before setting a workout routine.” He suggests starting with walks and cardio before going for weight-training.
A heart-friendly diet
A diet low in carbohydrates and fat and rich in fibres and minerals is recommended. “Heart-friendly diet includes complex carbohydrates with four-to-five servings of fruits, shallow cooked vegetables and reduction in the intake of processed and frozen foods. One should reduce alcohol and tobacco consumption in any form,” says Dr Gera.
Lakhan (age: 29)
It was a regular day for Lakhan, a businessman, when he left for work in the morning. “Upon reaching there, I suddenly felt chest pain and sought help. Doctors diagnosed a blocked artery as the cause for the heart attack,” says Lakhan, who doesn’t drink or smoke. “Genes could have been a reason,” he says. With a stunt in place, Lakhan is back to work and leading a regular life. “I believed heart attack happens only to old people. The diagnosis left me shocked,” he says.
Rajesh (age: 42)
Only last month, Rajesh Thoppil, who works as a nurse, suddenly felt immense pain in his chest while at home. He was quick to respond and rushed to the hospital, where doctors treated him for a heart attack. “Please don’t wait and reach out for help without wasting a minute. It can save your life,” says Thoppil, who wonders if the sudden heart attack had to do with contracting Covid-19 in 2021. “I am back at work after three weeks of rest, but have been advised to refrain from eating too much salt, sugar or fried food, and to go for walks and avoid stress,” he says.
Yoga for your heart
Breathing exercises: One can practise tiger breathing and ankle stretch breathing. Asanas: Tadasana, Ardhakati Chakrasana, Vrikshasana, Bhujangasana, Vakrasana Relaxation: Savasana or deep relaxation technique
Asanas to avoid
Those who have underlying heart conditions must avoid jerky movements, Shithilikarana Vyayam (loosening practice), Shalabhasana (locust pose), Dhanurasana (bow pose). While doing Padhastasana (forward bend), only go till 90 degrees. Do not let your head go below your chest.
Inputs by Gaurav Chauhan, yoga protocol instructor