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Pump It Up

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the world’s number one killer and claims almost 17.9 million lives each year. Lynne Gidish finds out the best ways to look after your heart.

Two hundred and twenty five. That’s the number of South Africans who die from heart disease every day, says Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA). “Although the incidence of heart disease has steadily declined in high-income countries, this is not the case in middle- and low-income countries such as South Africa. One in every five deaths is caused by CVD (heart disease and stroke),” she says. “And the sad thing is that 80% of them can be prevented.”

Take control

There’s no doubt that poor health habits increase your risk of being diagnosed with heart disease. The good news is that this can be significantly reduced – even if you are genetically predisposed to CVD – by living a healthy lifestyle. The HSFSA suggests that you:

Maintain a healthy body weight, which is one of the best ways to protect overall health. Right now two thirds of South African women, one third of our men and almost one in four of our children between two and 14 are overweight or obese. Carrying all those excess kilos puts you at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke as well as a whole host of other life-threatening health conditions such as high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes.

Eat healthily by consciously making good nutritional choices and following a balanced diet that includes lots of fruit and veggies; pulses; low-fat or fat-free dairy products; lean proteins; high-fibre wholegrains; healthy fats and foods high in omega 3 fats. Restricting your salt intake – a huge contributor to hypertension (high blood pressure) – and limiting alcohol are also excellent healthy heart choices. The World Health Organisation links alcohol to a range of serious health issues such as breast cancer, high blood pressure, obesity and stroke, so limit your intake to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

Exercise regularly to help with weight control and reduce your CVD risk. Over 25% of South African men and almost 50% of South African women lead sedentary lifestyles, increasing their risk of developing high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancer, CVD, depression and anxiety. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes per week – that’s 30 minutes five days a week – of moderate aerobic activity that gets your heart pumping faster, such as brisk walking, swimming, gym, soccer etc.

Stop smoking – and that includes vaping. Smoking remains a leading cause of CVD, according to HSFSA, almost tripling your risk of heart disease and more than doubling your risk of having a stroke. Quitting provides almost immediate cumulative benefits and over time can reduce your risk of CVD to that of a non-smoker.

Have regular health checks to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose. Although one in three South African adults suffers from hypertension, a major risk factor for CVD, 50% of them are unaware that they have the potentially fatal condition. High levels of cholesterol can result in fatty deposits in your blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease, while high blood glucose levels can lead to diabetes, another risk factor for CVD. So make sure you schedule an annual visit to your doctor, pharmacy or clinic for these simple tests that could save your life.

Image: ©iStock - 873873200

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