How to keep a healthy heart

It is easy to take for granted the fact that you woke up this morning. While you’ve been asleep all night, your heart has continued to work, ensuring you remain alive. The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body and is the organ that makes our daily lives possible.

Without having any conscious control over it, the heart pumps non-stop, 24/7, enabling blood to reach all the organs in the body and keep them functioning. Because the heart plays such a vital role, it’s important for us to do what we can to keep it healthy. In honour of World Heart Day on 29 September, take the time to discover more about this incredible organ and the things that can affect it.

Health24.com reports that cardiovascular disease is the second biggest killer in South Africa, after HIV and AIDS. Every day, approximately 200 people die from a heart attack, and this includes both young and old. 80% of heart attacks suffered by young people are caused by poor lifestyle choices. There are various cardiovascular diseases, each affecting different parts of the heart and displaying different kinds of symptoms. Below are the main types of cardiovascular disease:

  • Coronary artery disease: caused by a build-up of plaque on the inside of the arteries and resulting in slower blood flow to the heart (and therefore a higher risk of heart attack and stroke)
  • Arrhythmia: irregular heart rhythms
  • Atherosclerosis: hardening of the arteries due to a build-up of fat, resulting in the narrowing/blocking of the vessels
  • Congenital heart defects: a problem in the structure of the heart that is present from birth and can often lead to complications such as heart failure
  • Heart infections: there are three main types – pericarditis, myocarditis and endocarditis.

Factors that can increase your chances of suffering from heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure (according to healthline.com, a healthy blood pressure is 120 over 80)
  • Smoking
  • A family medical history of heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity 
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Age
  • High levels of stress
  • Lack of sleep

As certain people are more at risk than others due to genetic predisposition, regular testing should be done to monitor your health, especially if any of the above factors apply to you. Some of the lifestyle risk factors, such as smoking, are preventable, and if decreased or eliminated, can reduce the chances of developing heart disease or experiencing a cardiac episode.

Symptoms to watch out for, depending on the type of disease, include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Erratic heartbeat (either too fast or too slow)
  • Swelling in the extremities
  • Blue-tinged skin
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

If one or more of the above symptoms persist, you should visit your healthcare professional or nearest hospital to seek medical advice.

Depending on the symptoms that you experience, various tests can be used to identify the cause, as well as any damage that may have already been done to your heart. Some of the most commonly conducted tests to determine cardiac disease are:

  • EKG (electrocardiogram): this measures the heart’s rhythm
  • CT scan: this is a kind of x-ray that can be used to capture cross-sectional views of the heart
  • MRI: also a kind of imaging that is used to create detailed images of the organ and its surrounding tissues
  • Stress test: this is a test used to monitor the heart during strenuous activity or exercise

Once the cause has been identified, the necessary treatment can be determined. This could include medication, surgery and lifestyle changes.

Whilst some heart diseases cannot be prevented, there are some that can be avoided through proper care. Heart disease can’t be cured or reversed, but further damage and deterioration can be stalled by making small lifestyle changes. Here are a few things you can do to help your heart stay strong and healthy:

  • Avoid or quit smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy, stable weight with diet and exercise. 
  • Exercise on a regular basis, at least 20-30 minutes, five times a week. Even small efforts, like taking the stairs instead of the lift or walking the dog, can help. 
  • When it comes to diet, watch portion sizes and try and cut down on foods that contain high amounts of sodium (salt), refined sugars, saturated fats and preservatives. Incorporate healthy foods that contain lots of nutrients and vitamins, such as fruit and vegetables. Fibre and omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role in heart health.
  • Reduce stress as much as possible. High levels of stress can affect your emotional and physical well-being, as well as your heart. It’s important to take the time to relax.
  • Get enough sleep each night – this allows your heart rate to slow, your blood pressure to decrease and gives your heart a well-deserved break.
  • Keep your blood cholesterol low – this can significantly lower the risk of coronary disease. 
  • Reduce your alcohol intake.
  • If you suffer from Diabetes, follow your prescribed treatment and work with your medical professional to manage your disease. Diabetes can very often be the cause of cardiac disease.

You only get one heart, so why not do the best you can to keep it healthy and happy?

FRANK.NET’s Serious Illness Cover is there for you in the event that you suffer from a heart attack, giving you the financial support you may need so that you can focus on getting well without having to worry about anything else.


SOURCES: WWW.HEALTH24.COM; WWW.HEALTHLINE.COM

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