Can We Prevent Heart Disease?
“I have saved the lives of 150 people from heart transplantations. If I had focused on preventive medicine earlier, I would have saved 150 million”- A famous heart transplant surgeon.
It is an old saying that prevention is better than cure and similar holds true for heart disease also, as estimated 80% of all cardiovascular cases- heart attack, heart failure, stroke and other heart disease are preventable.
The key is to maintain a healthy lifestyle such as regular exercise, eating a plant-based diet, getting enough sleep, no smoking and to control high BP, cholesterol and blood sugars.
These factors also work for known heart disease patient to stop further progression of the disease and some time to reverse the disease condition.
Exercise: Most cardiac risk factors are improved through a combination of aerobic exercise, resistance training and stretching. Minimum 30min. of moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking, treadmill running, swimming, cycling etc., five times a week is effective, but more is better. Can use activity tracker- 10,000 steps/day should be standard target inactive people.
Diet: Plant-based diets for a healthy heart are DASH (Dietary approach to stop HTN) diet and MIND (Mediterranean- DASH diet intervention for Neurodegenerative delay) diet.
These include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and healthy oils like olive, canola, corn, soy, sunflower and peanut oils (esp. regular change among these oils).
Dark green leafy vegetables, including spinach and kale, are especially cardioprotective. Any fruit in diet is good for the heart but berries- black or blueberry, strawberry are great choices.
If Non-vegetarian, limit red meat consumption to 1-2 times/ month. Increase fish intake twice/ week.
It was observed that the strongest adherence to the DASH diet had an adjusted 24% reduction in coronary events and an 18% lower risk for stroke than did those with low adherence.
Sleep: At least 7-8 hrs. of sleep/ night on a regular basis. Less than this amount of sleep is associated with higher stress, high BP, weight gain and leads to heart disease.
Other positive lifestyle changes are quit smoking (active or passive), weight loss and stress management. Stress nowadays is one of the most important risk factors for cardiac events. Increase anxiety by 20 years of age can lead to twofold increased risk for heart attack over a 37-year follow up. Stress management with help of meditation and deep breathing exercises is necessary and so is optimistic outlook as it is associated with approximately 22% reduction in cardiac events compared to their pessimistic peer over a 10 year follow up. Other important things are to get regular health screening, lower down your BP, control cholesterol, maintain blood sugar level and use BMI calculator to maintain healthy weight.
Remember you are never too young or too old to take care of your heart and these small steps in present can prevent big health issues in future.