This is a contributed article by Professor Derek Connolly, Consultant Cardiologist and the Director of Research and Development at Birmingham City Hospital and the Clinical lead for cardiac care for the local integrated Care System. He is an Honorary clinical associate Professor at Aston medical school and Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK.
As we celebrate World Heart Day today, it is an opportune time for us to pause and think about the importance of good heart health. Cardiovascular or heart diseases are one of the leading causes of death in the UK and in Singapore, accounting for one-third of deaths in 2021. Unfortunately, this trend is not unique to these two countries: with a rise in obesity, sedentary lifestyles and bad diets, we are seeing more people dying in places like the United States and in Mexico due to various heart conditions.
We are now learning that even people with normal-weight central obesity – which is characterised by a normal body mass index (BMI) but high waist circumference – have an increased risk of heart failure and atrial fibrillation (a condition that causes an irregular heart rate and is associated with stroke).
So, what can we do about it? Well, there are a number of things you can consider.
#1: Incorporate small, healthy habits into your daily routine
Among other things, your diet and lifestyle impact your body weight, which affects your cardiovascular risk. Other than the quantity, the quality of your diet is equally important:
- Minimize consumption of sugary or salty foods or beverages
- Swap to whole grains where possible
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and legumes
- Ensure moderate consumption of alcohol, coffee and low-fat/fat-free dairy
Regular physical activity also helps safeguard your heart health by controlling common risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and body weight. Being active can be as simple as making the effort to take a long walk each day. Studies have shown that getting 10,000 steps per day is associated with a lower risk of mortality, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
For regular smokers, it is imperative that you quit smoking because it puts you at increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or sudden cardiac death.
#2: Don’t hesitate to seek help
Heart diseases do not solely affect older people. In fact, we are seeing rising cases among younger patients globally because of unhealthy lifestyles and other metabolic factors. So, if you develop symptoms such as acute chest pain, it is absolutely essential that you seek professional help, even if you are only in your 20s. Clearly, if you are getting chest pain that is coming and going, it needs investigation.
It is also important to note that symptoms may differ between men and women. Besides chest pain, women suffering from heart attacks are more likely than men to have symptoms like shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, nausea or vomiting.
The earlier we diagnose, the more likely it is that you can prevent complications further down the road and the more you can live a longer, healthier life.
#3: Know your numbers
Recently, a piece of research showed that around 40% of adults studied unknowingly have heart diseases because they have no or few symptoms. The moral of the story is to prioritise health check-ups. This means knowing if you’re diabetic, or what your cholesterol or lipoprotein levels are because all of these contribute to your cardiovascular risk.
Going for regular health check-ups is even more important as you grow older as it allows you to keep track of your risk factors.
An evaluation of an NHS cardiovascular disease prevention programme has found that people who went for regular health checks have lower risk factor values at the end of the study – particularly, net reductions in BMI, blood pressure and smoking. This is because the checks resulted in guided health interventions that promoted behavioural change.
Our understanding of heart health is increasing every day with new research and data. As doctors, our job is to translate this data for our patients and guide them on their health journey. We are in this together and I encourage you to speak to your doctor today to understand your risk factors and discuss ways to develop a healthier lifestyle.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Spurwing Communications is not affiliated with the author in any way.
|Professor Derek Connolly, BSc[Hons] MB ChB[Edin] PhD[Cantab] FRCP
Consultant Cardiologist, Birmingham City & Sandwell Hospitals