A study by Dr. AASHISH CONTRACTOR
In the not-to-distant future, India is poised to have the dubious distinction of becoming diabetes and heart disease capital of the world. Currently, 35% of deaths related to these conditions are taking place between the ages of 35-65, and there is still a big misconception that only men are affected by heart attacks; when in fact women are at equal risk.
The silver lining…
You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It is not an inevitable consequence of age, city living, or even bad genes. The focus should be on confronting the risk factors, which lead to the disease. Below are some simple guidelines you can follow to reduce your risk of becoming another statistic in this modern-day war against disease.
STUB OUT THAT CIGARETTE
A smoker’s risk of having a heart attack is more than twice that of a non-smoker. Smoking speeds up the development of plaque in the arteries. It also reduces the level of good cholesterol (known as HDL) and increases the stickiness of blood cells causing blood clots inside the arteries. If you smoke currently, strongly consider quitting – it’s not cool anymore!
10,000 STEPS A DAY
Exercise helps protect against heart disease and several forms of cancer. But besides regular exercise, every extra step you take during the day builds up your ‘health balance’, and helps to decrease your risk of disease. Try and factor in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as walking) in your daily routine.
While it is important to maintain a healthy weight, according to your height, it is more important to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Studies have shown that exercise programs and healthy eating lead to improved health, even in the absence of weight loss. However, these studies should not be seen as a license to be overweight, but to serve as encouragement to those making a change in their lifestyle, which might not necessarily be reflected on the scale.
Fad diets spring up every day and foods tend to go in and out of fashion as fast as clothes. Make sure you get several servings of vegetables and fruits (not juices!) daily, keep the oil content of your food low and eat several small meals per day. Keep the intake of ‘simple sugars’ (e.g. soft drinks and desserts) to a minimum, while consuming more of complex carbohydrates. Try to drink between 8-12 glasses of water a day, but be careful not to go overboard as this may have adverse effects and be harmful to those with certain heart conditions.
GET YOURSELF CHECKED
We all feel that it will ‘never happen to me’, but heart disease is an equal opportunity killer. Unfortunately, most of the risk factors for heart disease are silent and they give you no warning of their presence. You should get your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight checked on a regular basis. Ideally, these tests should start at the age of 15 and be repeated periodically. If you have crossed 40, it is also a good idea undergo a stress test.
SUGAR IS NOT SO SWEET
If you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugars under ‘tight control’ is very important. Physical activity is the best way to burn off excess sugar in the blood. People who have diabetes, especially women, are more prone to heart disease.
TAKE THAT PILL
With appropriate lifestyle modification, you should be able to control most of your risk factors. But at some point, you may need to take medication. Do not stay away from medicine because of the over-hyped and unjustified fear of side-effects or ‘being on medicines for life’. You should discuss the risk to benefit ratio of any medicine with your doctor and make the decision.
PICK YOUR PARENTS WISELY
Heart disease has a strong genetic component. If your parents or siblings have had heart disease you need to be doubly careful and start to have regular check-ups from an early age. Although genetics are an indicator of your risk, just because you may have a family history of heart disease does not necessarily mean that you are deemed to develop the same condition.