Our hearts serve us dutifully, sustaining us from our first to our very last breath. In view of this, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) have come up with six practical tips to treat your heart with the respect and care it deserves.
A strong heart is a happy heart. Regular exercise provides profound long-term health benefits including benefits which protect your heart’s health, such as:
- Improves ‘good’ cholesterol levels
- Helps lower high blood pressure
- Helps reduce and control body weight
- Helps control blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of developing diabetes
- Helps to manage stress and releases tension
- Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke
Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, such as 30 minutes 5 days a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, such as 20 minutes 4 times a week.
Know your numbers
All strong relationships are built on good communication. Blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose values shouldn’t be a secret than can ruin the relationship with your heart. If these hidden numbers are out in the open, a broken heart could be saved before it’s too late! So go for regular health checks to make sure you know what your numbers are.
How we eat and it’s impact on our daily blood glucose control has an accumulating effect on our heart health. Which means that our daily choices which stretch over months and years have a far larger impact on our heart’s health than the odd chocolate. So, care for your heart by nourishing your body daily with a balanced, healthy diet. Eat more healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocados. Watch your portion sizes to avoid over-eating and eat less food with excess sugar, salt and bad fats such as take-aways, sugary drinks, cakes and pies. For individualised dietary advice and support, find a dietitian at www.adsa.org.za.
Build healthy relationships
Could love improve heart health? Satisfying relationships and social support don’t only make us feel happy and loved, but may also provide health benefits. One reason for this is that it may lower harmful levels of stress and stress hormones. Many behaviours, such as human touch or showing affection; affirming our love for one another; caring behaviours or offering help, could elicit this calming effect, sense of security and support. Loved-ones may also provide encouragement for us to take better care of ourselves by preparing and enjoying healthy meals together and supporting us to go for regular health check-ups.
Even though most people associate smoking with lung health, more smokers will in fact suffer heart disease. Smoking almost triples the risk of heart disease and more than doubles the risk of having a stroke. Therefore, you can’t have a good relationship with your heart if you light up a cigarette daily. It’s like saying ‘I love you, but I don’t want to be with you’. Quitting however, is not easy, it’s like getting out of a bad relationship. So don’t do it alone, ask for help or get in touch with any of the following support programmes:
Mind your mental health
Stress and depression have both been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. While we can’t always escape day-to-day stress, we can manage it effectively. Instead of reaching for a cigarette or a donut, try to relieve your stress with something healthier like going for a brisk walk, speak to a friend or take time to do something you enjoy.
Depression is a common mental disorder characterized by lowered mood, negative thoughts, low energy levels and a change in appetite. It increases the risk of heart disease by 50% compared to someone without depression. If you think you may suffer from depression, then speak to someone you trust and seek professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Depression can be effectively treated but the first step is recognising it.