Most heart conditions can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle and avoiding and/or treating lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Here’s how:
Making simple changes to your diet, increasing your level of activity and managing stress can have a significant effect on your heart health and lower your risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, high cholesterol and hypertension.
Create healthy habits
- Make simple tweaks to your family’s diet, such as reducing the number of times you eat red meat during the week, using low-fat options such as grilling and steaming food and sitting down to eat regular meals
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly so that your body has time to register that you are eating – this will help prevent overeating
- Teach children to love healthy snacks such as fruit
- Make all your starches wholegrain – it’s high in fibre, which has been linked to heart health, and it will keep you fuller for longer
Cut back on:
- Red meat
- Alcohol and caffeine
- Food and beverages with a high sugar content
- Saturated and trans fat. These fats can be found in products derived from animals such as red meat, high-fat dairy products and industry-produced fats such as packaged baked goods, snacks, margarines and fried fast foods.
- Sodium – limit your salt intake to 2 300 mg or one teaspoon of salt per day. If you suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) reduce it even further to 1 500 mg per day.
- Processed food such as breakfast cereals, tinned food, bread, ready meals, savoury snacks like pies, and processed meat such as bacon, ham and salami. These foods contain preservatives and high levels of sodium, saturated fat and sugar.
Incorporate moderate exercise that raises your heartbeat for 30 minutes five times a week. You can break these up into shorter bouts of 10 minutes during the day. The good news is that moderate activities such as walking, gardening, dancing and cycling also count. Start slowly with low-impact exercise such as walking and slow cycling, and make your workouts more strenuous as you get fitter.
A fitness tracker can help you record your heart rate and other vital statistics such as calories burned, number of daily steps, sleep patterns and more. These patterns will help you to assess your overall fitness and health, and to set achievable goals. It can also help you identify issues such as ineffective sleep patterns that can affect your health.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
- Stop smoking. It causes high blood pressure and excessive blood clotting, and reduces the oxygen level in your body. All these make your heart work harder and raises the risk of heart damage. There is no safe level of smoking. The only safe smoking is no smoking.
- Avoid excessive alcohol use. Alcohol elevates your blood pressure and the levels of triglyceride (a type of fat) in your blood. Excessive alcohol use has been linked to obesity, liver disease, diabetes and sudden cardiac death. Limit your intake to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, but try not to drink alcohol every day. A drink portion is 125 ml wine, 340 ml beer or 25 ml spirits of liquor.
Check your numbers
- A high cholesterol level will clog the arteries with fat deposits and restrict blood flow.
- High blood pressure damages the arteries and the heart.
- If you are overweight it can cause high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Medihelp medical aid members have access to routine screenings consisting of blood glucose, cholesterol, BMI and blood pressure measurements, as part of the added insured benefits on all our options. You can read more about these and other benefits here.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose any health concerns such as high cholesterol or hypertension after you have undergone a screening, and will advise you on how to correct this, such as lifestyle changes and/or medication.
If you have diabetes or any other health condition that might affect your diet, ask your doctor for recommendations on how you can make your diet more heart healthy.
Join a healthy community
If you are a Medihelp medical aid member you can join HealthPrint, our free online health and wellness platform for members. You can set up and track your own health profile by uploading your screening results and get access to a library of health and wellness information.