It’s said, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. There’s actually plenty of truth in this saying – and it applies to ALL Hearts!
The Heart Truth
World Heart Day happens on 29 September every year and since it is around the corner, we wanted to give our heart a little love and attention.
Have you ever thought about this? Your heart has never stopped a day since you were born. It is the power supply providing blood and oxygen to the rest of your body. Without the power supply, nothing else works. And our heart is the only one we have. Hence, it is very important to take care of it.
In 2020, cardiovascular diseases accounted for 31.7% of all deaths in Singapore, which means nearly 1 out of 3 deaths are caused by heart diseases.1
Being aware of your risk factors, the personal characteristics and habits can help reduce your chances of heart diseases. Below are some risk factors, including those that you can change and those that you cannot. If needed, do work with a healthcare provider to reduce or control as many risk factors as you can.
Factors you can control
The Three Highs
People with high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure or high blood surgar/ diabetes tend to have higher risk. Find out more about the infamous trio here
Your lifestyle also plays a critical role in mitigating the risks of developing the three highs. People who subscribe to a high calorie and high fat diet with a sedentary and stressful lifestyle are more likely to accumulate excess nutrients and store more fats in their bellies.2
Apart from the damage caused to lungs and our respiratory system; smoking also causes discomfort and accelerates the injury to our blood vessels.
Factors you cannot control
A person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases with age. On average, 80% of those who die of coronary heart disease are aged 65 and above.3
Men generally face a higher risk than women and tend to suffer heart attacks earlier in life. However, that does not lower the probability for women. In fact, cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death for women both in Singapore and worldwide. This is especially so for women after reaching menopause. 3
Family HistoryIf you have close/immediate family members with a history of stroke or heart disease, you are more likely to be at risk yourself, due to the genetics that you share. Genetics aside, immediate family members are also likely to share similar dietary and lifestyle habits, including environmental risk factors.
It is important to be aware of warning signs our heart may be sending us by paying attention to certain symptoms. The symptoms can vary from person to person but being aware and recognizing these common signs and getting help immediately can make a life and death difference.
The good news is that 80% of heart diseases can actually be prevented by making some heart-healthy lifestyle changes.
1. Keep moving
Like any other muscles in the body, our heart can be strengthened through exercise. Research has shown that at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level. Find an activity that you like and stick to it. Being active not only contributes to better heart health but is also a great mood lifter and stress buster. 4
2. Get sufficient rest
A recent study found that taking 1-2 weekly naps during the day is linked with 48% lower chances of getting heart diseases as compared with those who do not nap at all.5 In fact, when you have better sleep quality, you will have a healthier heart. Research has shown that poor quality of sleep significantly increases the risk of developing high blood pressure.6 Ensure that you prioritise at least 7-8 hours of good quality sleep to reduce your risk of heart disease
3. Laugh more
Laughter could just be the best medicine when it comes to heart health. Research from American Heart Association has shown that laughing may decrease stress hormones, reduce artery inflammation and increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol. The effects of laughing have also been found to last 24 hours. According to Dr. Steinbaum, a spokesperson for AHA, “once you start laughing, it forces you to feel better.”7 So take some time to rediscover your inner child, laugh, love and laugh again!
4. Quit Smoking
No ifs, ands, or buts. There’s no better time to snug out that cigarette than right now. Avoiding tobacco is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, causing a build-up of fatty deposits which narrows arteries, plus the carbon monoxide from the tobacco smoke also reduces oxygen in your blood.8 Quitting is not easy, but recovering from a heart attack or having to live with a chronic heart condition is even tougher. So make the decision to bite the bullet today.
5. Choose good nutrition
Healthy diet is your best weapon against heart disease. Over-consumption of unhealthy foods (e.g. fast food, processed foods, sweetened beverages etc.) will negatively impact your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and weight - all of which are risk factors related to heart disease. Choose nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, whole grains, Japanese natto, and healthy foods rich in Omega-3 (e.g. deep sea fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds walnuts, etc.).
6. Crush Stress
Research shows that the effects of stress manifest throughout the body9, affecting blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some people may also turn to unhealthy habits to cope with stress, such as drinking and smoking, which can further increase the risk of damaging the heart.
Apart from spending time with loved ones, having a good sense of humour and investing time in activities and hobbies you enjoy can help to dissipate stress as well. Be it yoga, reading a book, or watching a show. Aromatherapy can also help you relax and provide some relief on more stressful days.
7. Don’t Procrastinate on Regular Wellness Checks
We often procrastinate when it comes to getting our annual health checks. While health screenings and blood tests are not exactly the most fun things to do – it is important to be disciplined when it comes to scheduling ourselves for an annual check. Many potential health conditions may not have early symptoms – as such, it is important to screen for common conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetic risks, etc. Early diagnosis and treatment can make all the difference when it comes to nipping any health concerns in the bud.
1Singapore Heart Foundation. (n.d.). Singapore Statistics. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from myheart.org.sg: https://www.myheart.org.sg/my-heart/heart-statistics/singapore-statistics/
2 Healthway Medical (2020, June 8) Managing the 3 Highs. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from healthwaymedical.com: https://www.healthwaymedical.com/managing-the-3-highs/
3 Singapore Heart Foundation. (n.d.). Risk factors. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from myheart.org.sg https://www.myheart.org.sg/my-heart/preventions-risks/risk-factors/
4 Pin, L. C. (2018, August 17). 10 Common Heart Conditions in Singapore. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from Health Plus: https://www.mountelizabeth.com.sg/healthplus/article/common-heart-conditions
5 Sandoiu, A. (2019 , September 11). Daytime napping 1–2 times a week may benefit heart health. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326311.php
6 American Heart Association. (n.d.). Sleep, Women and Heart Disease. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from Heart.org : https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/go-red-get-fit/sleep-women-and-heart-disease
7 American Heart Association. (2017, April 5). Humor helps your heart? How? Retrieved September 19, 2019, from Heart.org: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Humor-helps-your-heart-How_UCM_447039_Article.jsp#.XYLtMG5uJPZ
8 British Heart Foundation. (n.d.). Smoking - Risk Factors. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from British Health Foundation: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/smoking
9 Stress and heart health: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health#.WjFXAvCnGUk