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Heart Health

29 September 2019

Know your heart: These simple tips can save your life

Today is World Heart Day, and here’s why it’s time we all paid attention to the heart disease epidemic.

Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in South Africa after HIV/AIDS, and if you think you’re safe from heart disease, think again.

In more recent years, it’s become the leading cause of death around the world.

According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA), 225 people die from heart diseases every single day in South Africa. 

Professor Pamela Naidoo of HSFSA offers tips to safeguard your heart: 

Who is most affected by heart disease?

Although heart disease is more likely to affect individuals over the age of 65, it does not discriminate and can happen at any age. If you have a family history of heart disease or any of the other risk factors, your risk for heart disease at a younger age increases.   

Women, pay attention:

According to STATS SA’s 2016 morbidity and causes of death report, combining deaths caused by hypertensive disease, ischemic heart disease and other forms of heart disease, the number of deaths ranked first for women in South Africa.

The report also indicates that heart disease mortality is more similar among women and men in early adulthood and middle age, but after the age of 65 the frequency increases dramatically in women.

What are the primary lifestyle risk factors that can lead to heart disease?

There are many risk factors for heart disease and they include:

  • Tobacco smoking
  • Stress
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) 
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle 
  • Family history of heart disease

I don’t have any risk factors for heart disease. Does this mean I’m safe?

Certain types of heart disease and stroke can happen without any risk factors being present. There are different types of strokes with different causes, and stroke and heart disease are not always related, although the risk factors for both are similar.  

What measures can I take to lower my risk for heart disease and stroke?

  • Know your risk factors: test your blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI), as this is the first step to managing your risk for heart disease and stroke. If it’s above the healthy range, you can start implementing strategies to lower these risks. 
  • If a doctor prescribes medication for hypertension or cholesterol, take the medication as prescribed and do not stop using the medication without discussing it with your doctor first.
  • Stop smoking: Even reducing the number of cigarettes smoked daily can improve your blood pressure.
  • Being active lowers blood pressure levels and reduces stress – another risk factor for hypertension. You don’t necessarily need to join a gym to be active. Walking in your neighborhood at a brisk pace for 30 minutes, three times or more a week is sufficient.
  • Being overweight significantly increases the risk of heart disease. If you're overweight or obese, you need to lose weight to reach a normal BMI.
  • Using more than the recommended amount of alcohol can increase your likelihood for developing or increasing blood pressure. The recommended amount is 1unit/day for women, and 2units/day for men.
  • Reduce salt intake: salt has been directly linked to an increased blood pressure. 
  • A healthy diet is one of the most fundamental pillars in ensuring a strong, healthy heart. Omega-3 fatty acids are very important in maintaining a healthy heart as they assist with lowering blood pressure, are effective at reducing blood clotting and irregular heartbeats, and they reduce the risk of heart failure and stroke. 

*World Heart Day is celebrated every year on 29 September and is aimed at drawing people’s attention to heart health and the range of associated heart health issues. 

Image: iStock