How To Keep Your Heart Healthy

Since 2008, heart diseases or otherwise known as CVD (Cardiovascular diseases) are most common cause of death globally, accounting to 30% of deaths. Cardiovascular disease refers to conditions that involve narrowed and blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, are also considered as cardiovascular disease.

The heart is a muscular organ which pumps blood through the blood vessels and circulatory system. The blood in the circulatory system provides the body with oxygen and nutrients and also assist in the removal of metabolic waste products. The heart is divided into the right and left side. The divisions prevents oxygen-rich blood from mixing with oxygen-poor blood. Oxygen-poor blood returns to the heart after circulating the body. The right side of the heart (the right atrium and ventricle) collects and pumps blood to the lungs through the pulmonary arteries. The lungs refresh the blood with a supply of fresh oxygen. Oxygen–rich blood then enters the left side of the heart (left atrium and ventricle). The left side of the heart then pumps the blood through the aorta to supply the rest of the body with oxygen and nutrients.

Risk Factors for CVD include:

  • Age
    When aging, the risk for weakened and thickened heart muscle and damaged and narrowed arteries increases.
  • Gender
    Men are at higher risk of CVD, however, women’s risk for CVD increases after menopause.
  • Family History
    If there is family history of CVD, your risk for CVD is higher, especially if a parent developed CVD at a young age.
  • High Blood Pressure
    Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in the hardening and the thickening of arteries and narrowing of vessels. A healthy diet that provides sufficient fibre and healthy fats and no or limited amounts of saturated fats, trans fat and salt will assist in keeping blood pressure controlled.
  • High Cholesterol
    High Cholesterol levels can lead to a higher risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries). Consuming healthy fats, adequate amounts of fibre, limiting saturated fats and sugar will assist in keeping cholesterol levels normal.
  • Diabetes
    Diabetes increases the risk for CVD. Control blood sugar levels by consuming wholegrain foods, fruit, and vegetables and avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugary foods and beverages.
  • Obesity
    Excess weight increase the risk for CVD as it increase the risk for other risk factors. Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight will assist in keeping your heart healthy.
  • Physical Activity
    A lack of exercise is associated with many forms of CVD. Being active for at least 20minutes a day, five days a week can assist in lower your risk for CVD.
  • Stress
    High stress levels may damage arteries and increase your risk for CVD. Managing stress by exercise, meditating, reading and socialising is recommended to assist in the prevention of CVD.
  • Smoking
    Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage the lining of the blood vessels, which increases the risk for arteriosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than non-smokers.
  • Poor Diet
    A diet that is high in saturated fat (animal products like cream, cheese, butter, full cream dairy products, fatty meats, coconut oil and palm kernel oil), salt, and sugar can contribute to developing CVD. By following a healthy, balanced diet which consists of wholegrains (oats, brown rice, wholegrain barley, buckwheat, quinoa etc.), fruit, vegetables, unsaturated fats (avocado, nut butters, olives, olive oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds), Omega3-rich fish( salmon, sardines, pilchards, mackerel, tuna) and lean protein (skinless chicken, white fish, game or lean meat) will assist in keeping your heart healthy, maintain a healthy weight and preventing other lifestyle diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

Nutrition plays a major role in keeping your heart healthy, for more information about a diet to assist in keeping your heart healthy, contact your dietician.

Compiled by Joani Britz RD(SA)

Joani Britz

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