Updated 22 June 2017

Take some pressure off your heart with good food and good moves

Sometimes, it is possible to think that not knowing all the facts is better. But ignorance is not always bliss when it comes to matters of the heart.


That is, knowing how your heart works and how what you do can keep it in good shape or not. Today, a staggering 6.3 million people in South Africa have high blood pressure and many also live with high cholesterol, which causes a fatty build up and clogs arteries. Both of these lead to your heart working harder, becoming unhealthy and causing strokes or other chronic health problems.  

Fact is, as South Africans we have a genetic tendency for high blood pressure. Combine this with poor eating habits, low activity, inadequate screening, high alcohol intake, and obesity, and matters don’t look great for hearts and overall health. More than half of people between the ages of 35 and 74 in four rural communities had high blood pressure in a recent study by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa. The devastation of high blood pressure is evident in it causing one in every two strokes, four in every 10 heart attacks and six in every 10 cases of kidney disease.

While high blood pressure and high cholesterol can be managed, many people don’t even know they need treatment. Because people don’t often experience physical symptoms, high blood pressure or cholesterol can cause major damage while left unmanaged. So what can you do? The first thing is to know how your heart is doing.

Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked at least once a year. It’s the best defence in combatting these silent killers. Do it, even if you generally have heart-healthy numbers. Medical schemes, like Discovery Health Medical Scheme for example, pay for a set of tests that identify your risks. Tests at a pharmacy include blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI). Taking a few minutes to know can help you take action early. Early action, like seeing your doctor for recommendations, and making changes to what you eat and your activity levels can get you and your heart back to a healthier state.

Everyone has to manage their lifestyle habits to be healthier. Managing body weight, getting some exercise, a healthier diet, minimising salt and alcohol intake, and not smoking all contribute to healthier blood pressure. Watching the types and amounts of fat you eat also protects you from heart problems linked to high cholesterol.

Take action today and give your heart a health boost. Even small changes at first can turn things around towards healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 


A diet fit for healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Lower your salt, sugar, alcohol and red meat intake. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. Choose low-fat dairy and skinless chicken, oily fish like salmon, trout, pilchards and sardines, nuts and wholegrain or high-fibre foods. Keep your diet low in fat, especially trans fats found in fried foods and pastries. Choose good fats, found in olive oil, avocado and nuts. It’s good to keep your diet rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and healthy protein and fibre.   


Spend minutes moving for lower readings and overall ‘feel good’  

Moderate physical activity is a main part of preventing heart disease, and managing blood pressure and cholesterol. With the release of ‘feel good’ hormones, you’ll also relieve stress and improve mental well-being as you strengthen your heart muscle. Swim, walk, and mow the lawn. Whatever you do, aim for at least 30 and up to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five days of the week – strength training also benefits your health. Remember, when you exercise always be aware of any discomfort and stop immediately, if needed. If you have no structured time for exercise, 10-minute bursts of activity during the day can make a difference. Change will happen gradually, give it at least one to three months. Just keep moving at a pace that suits your needs and health. If you feel uncertain about your exercise plan, and if you are older than 50, have a fitness test at a biokineticist for some advice on exercising your way to a healthy cholesterol or blood pressure reading.   

With higher than recommended blood pressure and cholesterol levels, always follow the treatment strategy recommended by your doctor to avoid heart disease and stroke. You can also discuss the appropriate lifestyle changes you can make in combination with your doctor’s treatment for the best health results.  


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