Heart Health

20 September 2017

Can you reverse your heart's age?

September is National Heart Awareness Month in South Africa. Turn back the clock and give your heart a second chance.

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There is no denying in the fact that our bodies age. Fortunately, it’s possible for parts of the body to repair themselves.

According to a previous Health24 article, the stem cells of the heart regenerate three to four times during one's lifetime, meaning that your heart is actually younger than your biological age.

There are many factors in our lifestyles that can lead to heart damage, but because of cell rejuvenation, it is possible to reverse and even undo such damage.

A frequent cause of death

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s number one killer, accounting for one in every three deaths worldwide, or 18 million people every year. Many of these deaths can however be avoided if we make the right changes to our lifestyle.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 80% percent of heart disease can be avoided, and 210 South Africans are killed by heart disease every day


A study, published in JAMA, looked at subjects with moderate to severe coronary heart disease who made intense lifestyle changes without the use of lipid lowering drugs. After one year, the researchers found that the subjects had a 37.2% reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and a 91% reduction in angina episodes.

After seeing these enormous changes after a year, the researchers decided to extend the study, and after five years, the changes in the study group’s heart conditions were even more profound.

While you can’t undo all the damage to your heart, you can reverse a lot of it through lifestyle changes. 

Here’s how you can contribute to your overall heart health and undo some of the negative changes:

1. Eat whole foods and reduce saturated fats

It's simple – saturated fat clogs your arteries, increases your cholesterol levels, makes your heart work harder and ultimately increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Cut this out, and the effects can be profound. Studies also mention that saturated fat increases plaque buildup and inflammation. This doesn't mean you should give all fats the boot, though! Include healthy, plant-based fats and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids in your diet, as these contain heart-healthy antioxidants. It's not just the fat that's the issue, however. Processed foods tend to be packed with sodium, which can increase hypertension and increase your chance of heart disease. The solution? Stick to foods in their most natural form and read those labels.

woman shopping for fresh vegetables

2. Cut out meat

For us South Africans who love a good braai, this isn't what we want to hear. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy a skaaptjoppie (lamb chop) over the coals, several studies have shown that the effect of a vegetarian or vegan diet can be profound for your health. For those who don't want to go cold turkey on the meat, here are a few practical tips: Choose lean meat cuts and white meats over fatty, processed meats. Also consider going flexitarian, which entails only eating plant-based meals on certain days of the week. Not only can it be lighter on your pocket, it will also lighten the load on your heart. 

woman cutting tomato

3. Exercise

Whether you like to take your dog for a walk or take that bicycle out of the garage, getting up and moving will improve your heart health. According to a article in Circulation, numerous studies have reported over four decades that there is a significant link between physical exercise and heart health. Exercise can reduce unhealthy weight, improve circulation and lower the amount of LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream, which can lower your risk of heart disease. Exercise also alleviates cell turnover, which helps the heart to regenerate faster.

two people running

4. Manage your stress

Next time you feel your fists tightening their grip on the steering wheel when a taxi cuts you off in traffic, ask yourself, "Is it worth it?" Managing your stress can have a positive effect on your heart health, according to studies. Stress has a negative effect on the body, especially the heart. Previous studies have also suggested that stress can aggravate inflammation in the body and increase blood pressure. Unfortunately we can't escape our everyday life, which includes things like demands at work, rush-hour traffic and bad news. But we can learn how to manage stress through a balanced lifestyle, breathing exercises and staying positive. If you find yourself unable to destress, consult a doctor or therapist. 

man in suit meditating in park

5. Quit smoking

Where does one start? Smoking is bad for you, period. Smoking is directly linked to inflammation of the aorta, the main artery in the heart that carries blood to the body. Aortic inflammation can cause the rest of the arteries to harden, increasing the risk of an aneurysm. Stop smoking, and you will stop this inflammation. Quit smoking today!

woman breaking cigarette in two

Image credits: iStock