September 30th, 2007 is World Heart Day. The beat for the day this year is 'Team up for healthy hearts'!
This day is an attack on the 'silent killer'- heart disease, which unfortunately has become a global 'phenomenon'. By virtue of the spiraling statistics of heart diseases and its
omnipresence, it has acquired a 'household' status. Despite this 'fame', people are yet unclear
about prevention of heart disease.
The heart, often called the 'seat of emotions, thought, and creativity' by many scientists and
philosophers spends a sleepless lifetime pumping blood to the cells. Despite all the eulogy
heaped on the heart from time to time, it appears that the world has simply taken this 'fist of
magic' for granted. According to estimates by the WHO, nearly 17.5 million lives world-wide are
lost to heart disease and stroke each year.
Experts opine that the common condition is coronary artery disease (CAD) that is caused by
thickening of artery walls due to fat deposits. This could lead to angina, heart attacks and even
Indian hearts may just end up in the mouths reading this - experts have forewarned that by 2010,
nearly 60% of the world's cardiac related ailments will be Indian. Currently, the number of
cardiac patients in India is higher than five crores; Experts feel this figure will double by
So, are Indians prone to heart disease? The answer is 'yes'. Research has shown that Asians as a
race are prone to heart disease as compared to people of other races. Added to this are other
risk factors like genetic predisposition, lifestyle changes, stress, smoking, pollution and the
Obesity is a growing epidemic in the world. Many children today are bogged down by their own
weight and are seen battling lifestyle diseases. With parents as 'roly-poly' models, children are
left searching for the right examples to chart their own life.
So, what we have in a nutshell is a recipe for more 'heartrending' tales. Therefore, it makes
better sense to understand cardiovascular diseases, their risk factors and most importantly
prevention strategies. The focus clearly rests on Prevention of heart disease with simple changes
in diet and lifestyle.
Let us take a sneak peek into cardiovascular conditions, which form the basic premise for heart
problems. In the absence of proper management of the disease, these conditions could lead to
Hypertensive heart disease
Hypertension or high blood pressure is also called a 'sly intruder', as it lies in the body, at
most times without any warning signal. Hypertension damages the heart slowly but surely, exerting
undue pressure on the blood vessels and the heart. It is also one of the leading causes of stroke
worldwide. Therefore, it is imperative to detect hypertension early and treat it without delay.
Ischemic heart disease
Narrowing of the coronary arteries due to fat deposits gives rise to this condition. When the
arteries thicken, blood supply to the heart gets affected. There is a strain on the heart as it
receives reduced blood supply. This can lead to heart failure.
Narrowing of coronary arteries is a gradual process fueled by unhealthy eating habits and
sedentary lifestyles. To keep the heart ship-shape, one needs to be physically active while also
following a healthy diet.
Today, evolved management strategies- coronary bypass, angioplasty, and other such procedures are
resorted to, depending upon the extent of blockage, which has resulted in extending lives.
Rheumatic heart disease
This form of heart disease is the result of rheumatic fever in childhood, which leaves a bad side
effect. Rheumatic fever most often follows a streptococcal infection in children, which could
permanently damage the heart valves. Patients resort to surgical intervention (replacement of
heart valves) periodically to salvage the heart.
Inflammatory heart disease
Inflammation of the heart muscle due to an infection or due to some other causative agent leads
to the condition. This can be effectively treated with medication. Yet, early diagnosis is the
How the Heart is Beaten - Cardiovascular Risk Factors
Inherent risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke increase with age, more so after the age of
55. The risk is manifold if there is a family history of cardiovascular disease.
Research has also shown that ethnicity influences cardiovascular risks. Asians and Africans are
predisposed to cardiovascular disease as compared to other ethnic groups. Yet, with proper
lifestyle and good diet, the risks can be offset or minimized.
Amendable cardiovascular risks include obesity, high cholesterol, use of tobacco, use of alcohol,
hypertension, lack of exercise, and unhealthy diet.
Hypertension is the biggest enemy for a healthy heart. In the absence of proper
management it can lead to heart attack and stroke.
High total cholesterol is an absolute no-no. Increased levels of triglycerides, high
levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or poor levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL)
cholesterol contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The solution for this is
clear - healthy diet, exercise and medication can keep the blood lipid profile under check.
Tobacco, in any form simply escalates the risk of cardiovascular disease. The risk is
pronounced if one has started smoking at a very early age. Giving up smoking greatly reduces the
risk of cardiovascular disease.
Long-term abuse of alcohol is a causative factor for heart disease.
Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise is a short-cut for cardiovascular disease and
stroke. Obesity, which could lead to diabetes, simply doubles the risk of heart disease.
Unhealthy diet rich in fat, stress, depression and anxiety are major contributors for
Keep the Heart Upbeat - Heart in your Hands
1. Quit smoking. Tobacco in any form is taboo for a healthy heart.
2. Get Moving.
By adopting a healthy and active lifestyle the risk of heart disease can be brought down by 25%.
Moderate physical activity ranging from 30 to 60 minutes of exercise preferably 5 times a week is
highly recommended. This could be in any form -stair climbing, brisk walk, cycling, and
aerobics. Exercise helps minimize stress, increases the blood flow to the heart by energizing the
pumping mechanism. This helps keep hypertension and other lifestyle diseases at bay.
3. Heart Healthy diet
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy products which are low in
fat offers protective benefits for the heart. Food rich in Omega -3 fatty acid (Fish) is known
to protect the heart.
Saturated fat and Trans fat increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat
is found in cheese, butter, beef, palm oil, coconut oil and milk. Snacks, bakery products, chips
are sources of trans fat.
4. Maintain optimum weight.
A healthy weight is imperative to decrease the risks of heart disease. Proper weight keeps a
check on blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
5. Regular Health Monitoring
In the absence of regular health screening, conditions like high blood pressure and high
cholesterol can go undetected. This is dangerous as it slowly damages the heart.
It is recommended that adults have their blood pressure checked once in two years.
Annual screening may be required, especially after the age of 30 years, if there is a family
history of hypertension or cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol level, blood sugar levels may be checked annually for those (30 yrs and
above) who are genetically predisposed to the conditions. For the rest of the adults, monitoring
should be done once in five years.
Regular monitoring of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar is recommended for
obese children, especially those with a family history of any or all of the above cardiovascular
Take heart - It is after all 'yours truly'. Prevent heart disease. Beat the heart blues away -
team up for healthy hearts, today!