Take These Steps Today for a Healthy Heart on World Heart Day

You live only as long as your heart beats. It is possible to be brain dead, but still alive simply because your heart is still beating. However, there are many threats to your heart which can prevent it from staying healthy. Your heart is probably the most finely tuned machine ever created, as it must function non-stop from day one till the last day. It takes only a few changes in your daily schedule and practices to ensure that your heart stays healthy. If perchance you have already developed some kind of cardiac issues, or were born with atrial septual defect (ASD), or ventricular septual defect (VSD), commonly referred to as ‘a hole in the heart’; then read on to find what you can do to improve cardiovascular health.

What Is World Heart Day?

29th September was selected to be the World Heart Day by the World Heart Foundation to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease (CVD) around the globe. Activities that have a positive impact on public health and overall health awareness ― runs, walks, concerts, fund-raising and sporting events, free health checks ― are carried out extensively on this day. In 2021, the theme is digital health to promote awareness about, prevent, and manage CVD better by harnessing the power of telehealth. In this context, it is vital to understand more than 18.6 million people around the world die from heart diseases annually.

The Burden of CVD in India

According to the Indian Heart Association, nearly 60 percent of the global heart disease burden lies in India. In 2016, CVD accounted for 28.1 percent of total deaths in India. Given that cardiovascular disease strikes Indians about a decade earlier than most people worldwide; the importance of building and ensuring cardiovascular health cannot be overstated. Even though it is a silent killer, heart disease is the number one killer in India. Since people often ignore initial symptoms, it results in almost 50 percent of first heart attacks turning fatal. When the arteries supplying blood to the heart narrow or harden from the buildup of plaque, which is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances found in the blood; then it is called coronary heart disease (CHD). The commonest heart disease in India is CHD.

Healthy Habits = Healthy Heart

It goes without saying that you must have healthy habits to have a healthy heart. A couch potato living off junk food takes a very short cut to CVD. If that person also smokes, and imbibes copious amounts of alcohol, then the writing on the wall is clear. Remember, such a person is unlikely to get insurance cover except at exorbitant rates of premium as underwriters examine the insured person’s habits, and look for things like smoking and drinking. If you don’t have healthy habits already, this is the time for you to begin eating sensibly ― food that is nutritious, which promotes heart health, and is eaten in small quantities are short intervals. Drinking plenty of water, light exercise which is performed regularly, and taking adequate sleep are healthy habits which you should never abandon. Your body heals itself when you sleep. So, sleep deprivation does incalculable harm to your heart. Plus, you should keep your weight under control as an unhealthy BMI puts your heart under that much more stress.

Understand why smoking is deadly for your heart:

The tobacco in cigarettes, bidis, pipes, and hookahs expels nicotine and carbon monoxide which put a strain on the heart by making it beat faster. They also increase the risk of blood clots.

Importance of a Balanced Diet for a Healthy Heart

Keep your heart healthy by sticking to a diet that incorporates fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and omega-3 fatty acids. It is a mistaken notion that you should go off salt, sugar, and fats completely if you intend to enjoy good heart health. Go easy on the deep fried, swimming in ghee or oil kind of food. Soups made from vegetable, fish, or white meat stock are excellent sources of nutrition while being delicious too. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbages, broccoli, leafy greens, all kinds of berries, various kinds of beans, citrus fruits, and foods rich in antioxidants are good for your heart’s health. There should be a sufficient quantity of fibers in your foods to cleanse the blood, and prevent the buildup of plaque.

Foods That Are Bad for Your Heart

Any food that raises the cholesterol levels in your body is obviously going to impact the health of your heart adversely. Over time, high amounts of salt, sugar, saturated fat, and refined carbs raise your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Some of the foods that are your heart’s enemies are bacon, red meat, white rice, bread, and pasta, baked products, soda, pizza, and processed meats. You want to keep cholesterol levels within acceptable limits. Avoid or limit alcohol intake as it raises the likelihood of plaque lining your arteries.

Bump Up Your Activity Level

It is vital to become active to keep your heart healthy. If nothing else is convenient ― walk. Take a leisurely walk after dinner. Walk briskly to the neighborhood store rather than ordering daily necessaries online. Practice some yoga in the morning before your morning bath. Take Zumba classes. Dance using whichever style suits you, or you are trained for. If you don’t have much leisure time, try spot jogging, or some floor exercise routines. Apart from stimulating circulation of blood, exercise will help release endorphins ― the happiness hormones ― which will help reduce stress.

Beat Stress, Not Your Enemies or Family

Stress increases blood pressure, thereby harming your heart. It could stem from work related stress, issues within the family, your own health, monetary distress, the political climate, or just watching too many TV news channels. You need to reduce stress smartly, rather than taking it to heart literally, or getting into fights with your loved ones or the neighbors.
There are numerous stress busters at hand for you.

  • Listen to the music you like best;
  • Read the kind of books you enjoy;
  • Watch comedy movies or shows;
  • Do some meditation;
  • Play some physically demanding games which aid in reducing stress;
  • Do some deep breathing exercise;
  • Stretching exercises increase circulation of the blood which soothes you;
  • Nibble on some citrus fruits, especially strawberries;
  • Drink some chamomile tea, or warm milk;
  • Eat dark chocolate;
  • Add turmeric to your recipes;
  • Dig into sardine sandwiches;
  • Add fatty fish and eggs to your meals;
  • Roll your feet over a golf ball;
  • Reduce screen time, especially before bedtime;
  • Try aromatherapy to relax;
  • Take a relaxing soak in the tub with bath salts;
  • Get off social media.

Takeaway: To help prevent heart disease, eat healthy, get active, maintain a healthy weight, and quit smoking. Inhaling secondhand smoke is equally harmful. Manage stress without relying on alcohol. Control your cholesterol level, and blood pressure.
The need for concerted action to prevent or interrupt transmission cannot be overstated by using mosquito repellents or smoke guns to literally smoke out the vectors.

Transmission and Treatment

The main parasites which cause malaria are Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae. Of these, the malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum has the highest death rate. Malaria is transmitted through the blood, usually, when a mosquito bites an infected person, and then bites a healthy individual. Other ways malarial parasites can travel are through an infected mother to her unborn child; sharing syringes which have not been sterilized properly ― a common enough practice among drug addicts; use of unscreened blood during a major surgical intervention. Lack of proper treatment, or incorrect treatment can make malaria a life threatening disease.

ACT for treatment:

Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is usually recommended for simple, uncomplicated malaria by WHO. Unfortunately, some strains of malaria variants have become resistant to existing treatments, especially the older regimens used in the 50s and 60s of the 20th century. What is even more worrisome is that some mosquitoes are developing resistance to at least one insecticide.

Understand Who Are the Most Susceptible

The most vulnerable segments of society ― children under five years of age, expectant mothers, their unborn children, the poor, and the marginalized ― are the most susceptible to getting malaria. One of the reasons for this is the kind of unhygienic conditions they live in which aids in breeding mosquitoes. Even though there are over 3000 kinds of mosquitoes, only 30 types are carriers of diseases like malaria and dengue, of which only 5 types of mosquitoes cause malaria in humans. Therefore, the target has to be to eradicate those types of mosquitoes, and prevent them from breeding in public and private spaces.

The National Governments of Countries Must Prioritize Malaria Eradication

Note that the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being; and Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation will contribute significantly towards making the world malaria free. They need to consider making malaria a notifiable disease. This will help the health departments of every region able to track the incidence, and transmission rates better. Further, they need to ensure that funding is not reduced when incidence rates begin to dip. They must actively pursue elimination.

Prevent Water Stagnation

Obviously, it is not a practical proposition to drain out every place where water collects, especially since it helps to recharge water tables in cities in some cases. In such places, using bleaching powder, and other chemicals to kill off larvae is one option to eliminate vector growth. However, civic administrations can carry out awareness campaigns to make people aware of the need to prevent water from accumulating in open tanks, unused flower pots, old tires, even empty coconut shells, and bolster parasite clearance. Keeping the slum areas clean, regular removal of garbage, encouraging the use of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs), spraying DDT and DEET on open drains, and covering drains wherever possible are some of the actions which should be taken by civic administrations in cities, towns, suburbs, and villages.

Keep Mosquitoes Away by Using Common Sense

Take these common sense steps to prevent malaria if you live in an area which is mosquito infested, and has a high incidence of malaria. Install window screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering the rooms. Ideally, have double doors for every room which can be entered from a verandah or the street, of which one should be of net or XPM. This will ensure that when you need to keep the door open, it does not become an open invitation to mosquitoes to enter the house.

Wear sensible clothes to keep mosquitoes at bay:

Wearing long-sleeved clothes, and full length pants to prevent exposing skin is one such way, especially after sundown as malaria causing mosquitoes are busiest from dusk to dawn. If the heat makes wearing such clothes an impractical proposition; then use a mosquito repellent spray, lotion, or cream containing DEET on bare skin. Unfortunately, most of them wear off in an hour or two.

Don’t expose yourself when at work:

Spraying a repellent, or lighting a vaporizer containing permethrin to keep mosquitoes away when you are at work is another option. Lighting a mosquito coil might cause severe allergies in the long run, and aggravate asthma. Sleep under a mosquito net to keep them off you while you sleep. Try burning neem leaves to chase away the mosquitoes.

Content Reviewed by – Asian Hospital Medical Editors