How To Keep Your Heart Young
Reader's Digest India|September 2021
Exercise and proper diet are a good start. But these cardiologist-approved tips offer surprisingly helpful additions to any routine
Valero Doval

Given our current health crisis, it’s easy to forget that COVID-19 is not the leading cause of death in the world. That distinction belongs to heart disease, which killed more than nine million adults in 2019 and represents 16 per cent of all deaths globally according to the WHO. Over six million of these deaths occurred in people between the ages of 30 and 70 and the highest incidents occurred in China, followed by India, Russia and the US. Research shows that COVID-19 itself may harm the heart, by either hindering the flow of oxygen or initiating a potentially damaging immune response. Clearly, it is more important than ever to take control of your cardiovascular health no matter your age: These 25 facts are a perfect place to begin any heart-health education.

1 Get screened early

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that everyone over age 18 get regularly screened for hypertension, or high blood pressure. According to results of a 2019 survey conducted by the Cardiological Society of India, almost one in every three Indian adults are hypertensive. And a study in PLOS Medicine revealed that less than 45 per cent remain undiagnosed. “Your blood pressure can be high without showing any symptoms— that’s why it’s known as ‘the silent killer’,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist and the medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. You should also get a lipoprotein profile, which measures your LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and total cholesterol. Left untreated, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can lead to heart disease, an aneurysm or even a stroke.

2 Manage stress and anxiety

Stress plays a role in 77 per cent of all health concerns, including digestive trouble, an inability to lose weight and heart disease, says Nikki Martinez, PsyD, an adjunct psychology instructor at Southern New Hampshire University. “When you reach an age where your body is going through changes and is not bouncing back as it once did, stress and anxiety can start to become quite significant issues,” she explains. “Learning solid coping skills, stress management, mindfulness, and healthy outlets can truly impact each and every area of your functioning.” Stress relief can come in many forms. Try taking a deep breath; giving yourself a mini-massage by massaging the palm of one hand with the thumb of the other; reciting a mantra, such as “I’ve got this” or “I feel calm”; breathing the scent of lavender, peppermint or rose; taking a walk; or simply spacing out for a few minutes.

3 Pay attention to your shoes

Oedema, the buildup of excess fluid in the body’s tissues, can be the result of congestive heart failure. When your heart doesn’t pump blood as effectively as it should, the blood instead collects and causes swelling, most commonly in the feet and legs. “People may notice their shoes feel tight or their socks make lines on their ankles,” says Gregg Fonarow, MD, interim chief of the University of California, Los Angeles, division of cardiology.

4 Watch the cleaning chemicals

Many cleaning products—even some ‘green’ ones—contain chemicals that have been linked to strokes and high blood pressure. When possible, clean your house with items you’d cook with, such as white vinegar, lemon, baking soda and cornstarch.

5 Toss your plastic containers

Chemicals commonly found in plastic water bottles and food containers, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, leach into the contents of these containers. More than 50 medical papers link phthalates to cardiovascular issues. Use glass, ceramic or stainless steel containers instead. Or look at the recycling code on the bottom of any plastic container; if it is a 3 or 7, it may contain BPA or phthalates.

6 Ask about new devices ...

Experts believe that 40 per cent of the world’s 2.6 crore cases of heart failure—a life-threatening chronic condition in which the heart is too weak to properly pump the blood and oxygen the body needs—occur in India. For these patients, there’s new hope: In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Barostim Neo System as a “breakthrough device” that gives patients who don’t benefit from standard treatments an option to reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life. It’s easily inserted under the collarbone.

7 ... and medications that can multitask

As an adult, having type 2 diabetes increases your risk of dying from heart disease as much as fourfold, reports the American Heart Association (AHA). If you have been diagnosed with the condition, ask your doctor about diabetes drugs that also have heart-protective properties, including empagliflozin (Jardiance), dulaglutide (Trulicity) and semaglutide (Ozempic). “These reduce the likelihood of a heart attack, a stroke, heart failure and even kidney disease,” says Eduardo Sanchez, MD, chief medical officer for prevention at the AHA.

8 Mind the salt, whatever your blood pressure

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