6 Vital Tips to Keep Your Heart Happy and Healthy

By Island Hospital   |   27.08.2018

We often tend to ignore or forget, for whatever reason, the most important organ in the entire human body – the Heart. It beats 100,000 times a day and over 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime. Now, is the perfect opportunity to be more proactive about taking care of your heart. After all, it works hard - without breaks - to keep you alive, so you should do your part and return the favor.

Taking great care of your heart to avoid cardiovascular disease is critical, but that should not be your only motivator. There are certain risk factors that we cannot alter- such as family history, sex or age – but there are many prevention steps we can take to maintain a happy and healthy heart:

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Smoking is regarded as one of the most important risk factors for developing heart disease. Substances in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, resulting in “atherosclerosis” (narrowing of the arteries). This, in turn, can lead to a heart attack.

No amount of smoking is safe. Heavy smokers have greater risk. All smoking habits (social smoking, smokeless tobacco and low-tar/low-nicotine cigarettes), including exposure to secondhand smoke increases the individuals risk to heart diseases. It is never too late to quit smoking. After quitting this habit for 5 years, one’s risk of developing heart disease falls to the level similar to that of a life-long non-smoker. In fact, immediately after you stop smoking, you start enjoying the rewards.

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Regular exercises reduce the risk of heart disease. When this is combined with a healthy weight, the benefit is even more pronounced. This, in turn, helps to regulate a healthy blood pressure range, and substantially reduces the development of chronic diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol.

30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week is the current recommended gold standard. This includes activities like walking on the treadmill, swimming, cycling or jogging. However, even shorter amounts of exercise offer heart benefits. So if you cannot meet those guidelines, do not give up. Three 10-minute sessions of workout most days of the week can also translate to similar heart benefits. It is more effective for an individual to build on the intensity and frequency of their exercise regime over a period of time than to engage in a one off strenuous session. In fact, daily chores like gardening and housekeeping are to be encouraged as they also count towards physical activities.

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A healthy diet is pivotal in maintaining a healthy heart. Numerous studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet which is rich in fruits, vegetables and oily fish is associated with the lowest incidence of heart disease.

Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Try to keep saturated fat to no more than 10% of your daily calories. And, try to keep trans-unsaturated fatty acids (trans fat) out of your diet altogether. If the nutrition label has the term “partially hydrogenated”, it means that product contains trans fat.

Major sources of saturated fat include:

  • Red meat
  • Dairy products
  • Palm oils

Sources of trans fat and hydrogenated oils include:

  • Deep-fried fast foods
  • Bakery products
  • Packaged snack foods
  • Margarines
  • Crackers
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil

It is important to understand that healthy fats from plant-based sources, such as coconut, avocado and olive oil, help your heart by lowering the bad type of cholesterol. Most people need to add more vegetables to their diet – with a goal of 5 to 10 servings a day. Eating that many vegetables not only help to prevent heart diseases but may also help prevent cancer and improve diabetes. Fish that is rich in Omega 3, such as salmon and mackerel, may decrease your risk of heart attack.

Consuming alcohol in moderation and alcohol of any kind - such as beer, red or white wine, or hard spirits – may help raise good cholesterol. If you do drink alcohol, know that the heart benefits only apply if you drink in moderation, which is defined as one serving per day for women and two per day for men. A serving of alcohol equates to

  • 1 small bottle of beer (350ml)
  • 1 glass of wine (150ml)
  • 1 shot glass of hard spirits (30ml)

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Being over-weight is a risk factor for heart disease. This affects the majority of people in the developed and developing nations.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), those having a high waist-hip ratio (WHR) may increase the risk of developing conditions that relate to being overweight, including heart disease.

This may be the case even if other measures of being overweight, such as body mass index (BMI) are in normal range.

Despite the important health problems related to obesity, when you lose the weight, that all starts to correct itself: Blood pressure comes down, glucose comes down, and “Good” cholesterol levels go up. One do not need to lose a drastic amount of weight to start reaping the heart benefits; it could be a matter of losing 7 kilogram, or 10% of your body weight. If you are struggling with your weight, talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight for your body should be, and how to start a nutritious diet and exercise program.

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Laughter is the best medicine
Laughing is not just good medicine for the soul, it helps the heart too. Not only does laughing help diminish symptoms of stress, anxiety, anger and depression, all of which increase your chance of developing heart disease, but laughing has also been shown to have other effects that are good for your heart. Laughing is a great way to release tension, relax and naturally improve the function of your blood vessels to increase blood flow. All of this protects your heart by lowering your risk for heart attack or other cardiovascular problems. By making humor a regular part of your life, you can actually have a big impact on your own heart health.

Sleep is necessity, not a luxury
Disturbed sleep can trouble the heart. Prolonged sleep deprivation increases the risk of suffering from heart disease, including high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and heart failure. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you wake up without your alarm clock and you feel refreshed, you are getting enough sleep. But, if you are constantly reaching for the snooze button and it is a struggle to get out of bed, you need better sleep each night. Make sleep a priority in your life. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Your brain produces Melatonin, a natural hormone which lets the body knows when it is time to sleep and wake up. Light exposure can impact the production of melatonin therefore keep your bedroom dark and quiet. A good night's sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, for better cardiovascular and overall health.

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There are 3 very important risk factors that predispose an individual to heart disease. They include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Diabetes.

Blood Pressure

We all know that understanding blood pressure and maintaining healthy readings are important for our overall health and longevity. After all, it is one of the most talked about indicators of health, particularly when it comes to the heart. Keeping your blood pressure in the normal range is crucial in preventing complications, such as heart disease. If you have hypertension (high blood pressure) you should have your blood pressure checked by your doctor every month. If you do not have high blood pressure you should get your blood pressure checked at least once every year. However, as you get older your blood pressure is likely to increase and you should be checked more often. More frequent checks are necessary in the presence of other risk factors like obesity, diabetes and a strong family history of hypertension. Worryingly, you can have high blood pressure and not even know it - yet this silent condition is doing untold harm to your body. Knowing your numbers is the only way to find out for sure if your blood pressure readings fall within the optimal range. To ensure accurate results and the safest actions for your heart health, ALWAYS discuss your readings and health conditions with your doctor.

Cholesterol Levels

Your cholesterol levels can tell you important information about your heart health—which you may not know otherwise unless you get that test done. That is because high cholesterol often doesn’t cause any symptoms until something serious like a heart attack occurs. Most adults should measure their cholesterol levels at least once every year. There are 2 important parameters in the evaluation of cholesterol. People with a family history of high cholesterol—or if they develop high blood pressure or diabetes should have their levels checked more often. But it is important that you maintain regular check-ins with your doctor, even if your results come back fine. Current guidelines for cholesterol-lowering treatment depend on your overall heart risk score—not just your levels on one particular test.

  • Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) frequently known as the bad cholesterol has a very strong association with the development of coronary disease.
  • High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) also known as the good cholesterol shows the favourable effects by reducing the fat deposits on the blood vessel wall
Diabetes Screening

Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Talk to your doctor about when you should have a fasting blood sugars test to check for diabetes. Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend early screening for diabetes. If your weight is normal and you do not have other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends starting screening at age 45, and then re-testing every three years. After completing a physical examination and blood tests, your doctor may order additional non-invasive tests. Non-invasive means the tests don’t involve tools that break the skin or physically enter the body.

 
There are few non-invasive tests available to help your doctor check for any abnormality of the heart.
 
Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Electrocardiogram (ECG) is a short test that monitors the electrical activity in your heart and makes a graph of your heart's electrical activity. The whole test takes about 5-10 minutes and is completely painless. You will need to lie still because moving can affect the results.

During an ECG, your doctor will place ten small electrodes on your limbs and chest that measure your heart's electrical activity and will detect any:

  • abnormal heartbeat
  • heart muscle damage
  • blood flow problems in the arteries
  • heart enlargement
  • patterns that are commonly associated with heart attacks
  • arrhythmia
  • other dangerous cardiovascular conditions.
Echocardiogram

Echocardiogram is an ultrasound of your heart which evaluate your heart valves and heart muscles. It uses sound waves to create a picture of your heart. The echo looks at the structure of your heart and the heart valves, and also gives information on the function and pumping action of your heart. The test can take from 15 minutes up to an hour. It is a safe and easy test, and most people find it’s not uncomfortable at all.

During an Echocardiogram, your doctor uses the probe and it will be placed in different areas of your chest which gives off pulses of high frequency sound waves which pass through your skin to your heart. The ultrasound waves ‘echo’ against the structures of your heart and the probe picks up these reflections and shows them in pictures on the screen of the echo machine. The cardiologist can see different parts of the heart as the probe is moved around on your chest. The sound waves can determine how much blood is pumped out by the heart when it contracts.

Coronary Calcium Scoring

Coronary Calcium Scoring detects and measure calcium-containing plaque in the arteries. This scan looks for specks of calcium (calcifications) in the walls of the coronary (heart) arteries. These calcifications are an early sign of coronary heart disease. Through computed tomography (CT) images of the heart, build-up of dangerous plaques — which restrict the flow of blood to the heart — can be detected, even before a person develops symptoms of heart disease. Plaque narrows the coronary arteries, reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This can lead to chest pain or discomfort called angina. The buildup of plaque also makes it more likely that blood clots will form in your coronary arteries. If blood clots block a coronary artery, a heart attack will occur.

This test is generally painless and fast. Due to the advanced equipment now used for this type of scanning, the scan duration are significantly reduced with very low radiation exposure. 

By using this scan for screening, the doctors can detect problems earlier, which give the patient an opportunity to make lifestyle changes to help avoid developing heart disease — such as by improving nutrition, starting to exercise or quitting smoking.

24-hour ECG Recorder or Holter Monitoring

24-hour ECG Recorder or Holter Monitoring records your heart's rhythm for 24 hours as you go about your daily activities. It's safe and completely painless. It can help diagnose symptoms - such as palpitations - which do not happen all the time. Different people experience heart palpitations in different ways. Palpitations can feel like the heart is fluttering, throbbing, murmuring, or pounding. They can also feel like the heart skips a beat. This can be annoying and frightening. Palpitations can be caused by a wide range of abnormal heart rhythms. 

Small patches called electrodes are stuck onto your chest and attached to a recorder that you carry in a pocket or wear around your neck or waist. During the test, you keep a diary of what you are doing and how you feel, along with the time of day of each entry. While you’re wearing the ECG recorder, you can do everything you would normally do - except have a bath or shower. When you return the monitor to your doctor, your will look at the recording to see the computer analyzed results and may give clues as to the underlying cause of palpitations.

In some cases, palpitations can be a sign of a more serious heart condition such as heart failure or cardiac arrest especially when it last a few minutes or more, or are combined with other symptom. If your heart palpitations come along with any symptoms like dizziness, feeling unsteady, fainting, or chest discomfort or pain, it may be a sign your heart’s functioning may be compromised. So, if you notice repeated episodes of heart palpitations, make an appointment with your doctor. They can test your heart to make sure it is working as it should so you can skip worrying about your health the next time your heart skips a beat.

Exercise Stress Test

An exercise stress test is a screening tool used to test the effect of exercise on your heart. It is considered to be a very safe and cheap test that gives very important information about the health of the heart. This simple test is usually performed under the supervision of a Cardiologist. There are various reasons as to why you need a stress test. This test is particularly useful for patients with a history of chest pain whereby there is a need to rule out blockages in the heart arteries. In addition, a stress test also indirectly reflects the health of the heart in patients with multiple risk factors (as discussed above).

The Cardiologists in Island Hospital have access to advanced imaging and blood tests that gives accurate assessment of heart attack risk. The test results are the best ways to tell if you are at risk of heart diseases before they develop noticeable symptoms and, if so, how severe is your condition. Complications of heart disease include heart attack and stroke. You can reduce the risk of complications with early diagnosis and treatment. Each patient’s case is unique. To help you understand the best type and methods of heart disease treatment and prevention, make an appointment to see any of our Cardiologists at Island Hospital.

Identifying risks and symptoms of heart diseases are the journey to maintaining a healthy happy heart.

 
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