Ask Your Doctor: TAKING CARE OF YOUR HEART
During the past few days many of us were doing activities related to Valentine’s Day. This is also a good time to start taking steps to take care of your heart if you have not done so over the past years. Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are a leading cause of death in many countries including Anguilla, but the good news is that many of these diseases can be prevented.
Diet and heart disease
Many studies have confirmed that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, legumes like pigeon peas, nuts, and whole grain can decrease the incidence of heart disease by up to 30%. While a diet high in saturated fats, large amounts of salt, trans fat and simple sugars can increase the risk of heart disease by about 30%. It is important to also select lower fat dairy products and poultry (skinless). Many of us here in Anguilla are addicted to soft drinks but you should limit sugar-sweetened beverages as much as possible. Try to also limit intake of red meat. If you choose to eat meat, select the leanest cuts available. It is therefore important that all of us should watch what we eat if we what to protect our hearts.
Stress and your heart
All of us will experience some levels of stress at some time in our lives whether we are firefighters, pilots, politicians or obstetricians. It is important that we learn how to manage such stress. Prolonged stress can take a toll on your heart. This might be related to increases in various hormones like cortisol. If you cannot manage the stress in your life seek professional help. Prayers, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, relaxation exercises, hypnosis have all being used with some success.
Exercise and the heart
There is no doubt that many residents in Anguilla have adopted sedentary lifestyles recently. I have recently seen more people walking the beaches and roads of Anguilla and being more physically active. This is to be encouraged. No matter what age you are, try to be physically active. This will benefit your heart. It is important to have a medical check- up prior to undergoing any exercise programme, especially if you have a medical condition. There is abundant evidence that regular exercise lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and other medical conditions.
Family history is important
The vast majority of risk factors for heart disease are related to lifestyle choices, but in some cases a family history of heart disease might increase your chances of developing heart disease. If you had a mother with heart disease [when she was younger than 65 years old], or a father with heart disease [at younger than 55 years old], early diagnosis and prevention are key. The earlier you know, the more chance you have to change your outcome and be in control of your potential for heart disease.
Have regular check-ups
It is important for all of us to have regular medical check-ups. If you have multiple risk factors for heart disease, or a strong family history, get screened to determine your real risk of heart disease. Know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If your test results are abnormal you and your doctor can take steps to prevent heart disease, whether it is lifestyle changes or medication.
Have a positive attitude
Positive emotions such as optimism can lower your risk of heart disease, and laughter is helpful too. It boosts the immune system, decreases stress and lowers blood pressure. After reading this article have a good laugh – it might be good for your heart.
I encourage everyone to start taking care of your heart if you have not done so recently. Many heart diseases are preventable. All of us, and especially those with risk factors for heart disease, are encouraged to do the following; become physically active, quit smoking, maintain a heathy weight, eat healthy to include cutting down on salt, red meat, sugary drinks, dairy products, and having regular medical check-ups. Your heart is in your hands!
Ask Your Doctor is a health education column and is not a substitute for medical advice from your physician. The reader should consult his or her physician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field are ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.
Dr Brett Hodge MB BS DGO MRCOG, is an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and Family Doctor who has over thirty-two years in clinical practice. Dr Hodge has a medical practice in The Johnson Building in The Valley (Tel: 264 4975828).