Keep your heart healthy
A HEALTHY heart is central to overall good health. Embracing a healthy lifestyle at any age can prevent heart disease and lower one’s risk for a heart attack or stroke. You are never too old or too young to begin taking care of your heart. True, the younger you begin making healthy choices, the longer you can reap the benefits. But swapping good habits for bad to promote good health can make a difference, even if you have already suffered a heart attack.
Heart disease is a range of health conditions that affect the heart. It includes problems with your heart rhythm or pulse (arrhythmias), weakness or ineffective pumping of the heart muscle (heart failure, cardiomyopathy), narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels that supply the heart (ischaemic heart disease, heart attack), and defects of the heart walls and valves, among other conditions. Today is being observed as World Heart Day.
According to Dr Julia Rowe-Porter, medical epidemiologist, non-communicable disease and Injury Prevention Unit, Health Promotion and Protection Branch, Ministry of Health and Wellness, because the heart is such a vital organ that we rely on every second of the day to pump blood around the body to and from other organs and tissues, we need to ensure our hearts are in good working order.
“Where possible we must also ensure that we do our best to prevent the development of heart disease that may cause severe dysfunction, disability and death. Many types of heart disease may cause irreversible damage and treatment is often expensive and lifelong, with significant costs on individuals and their families and an additional burden on the health sector to provide services and care for persons living with heart disease,” Dr Rowe-Porter said.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in Jamaica, causing a third or 33.7 per cent of all deaths in 2016 (RGD 2016). Many of these deaths occur in persons under 70 years of age that are still in their productive years of life and many have jobs and families that depend on them.
“A significant proportion of the national health budget is spent on the care of persons with non-communicable diseases like CVD who require long-term treatment, care and support, as well as hospitalisation for complications and severe disease such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure,” Dr Rowe-Porter said.
Choosing healthier foods and exercising are two of the best ways to contribute to good heart health. There are a number of additional things you can do to lower your risk for heart disease. Things that put you at higher risk for heart disease include elevated levels of blood pressure (hypertension), blood sugar (diabetes) and blood fats (high cholesterol/lipids) contribute to hardening and narrowing of blood vessels in the heart and other major organs, causing irreversible damage that leads to the development of heart disease.
“Overweight/obesity and smoking also increase the risk of developing heart disease. These risk factors can be reduced by making lifestyle changes. However, there are some risk factors for heart disease that cannot be changed, like getting older and having a family history of heart disease or stroke,” Dr Rowe-Porter said.
The good news is that it is possible to decrease your risk by making changes in the way you live your life. Even if you have a family history of heart disease, the power of prevention is on your side.
You are in direct control over many things that can influence your heart health. It is up to you to choose how seriously you take this responsibility. Some people find it easy to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Others will do so only after being diagnosed with a symptom of heart disease, like high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
“A key strategy for the prevention and control of HTN & CVD being employed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW), Jamaica, is the early detection and diagnosis of these diseases. This strategy has been employed because there is well-established evidence that early detection (screening and early diagnosis) can reduce premature mortality,” Dr Rowe-Porter said.
Since May 2021, she said approximately 1,000 primary care clinicians have been trained in the screening guidelines for hypertension, CVD and diabetes mellitus, and to provide patient-centred holistic screening and assessment.
Whatever your inspiration, know that the benefits of a healthy heart are worth the effort. In fact, your entire body will be better for it. Good overall health can also protect you from type 2 diabetes, asthma, joint pain, and a number of other chronic diseases and conditions. It can even reduce your risk for cancer. Additionally, a healthy lifestyle that includes eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise has been proven to boost your mood. You will have more energy and less stress.
“The MOHW is reminding you to give your heart some love by living a healthy lifestyle and getting your check-ups, because a healthy heart gives you a chance to LIVE Longer and LOVE Stronger. The theme for this year is ‘Use (Heart) to Connect’, so make it a family affair ... eat healthy, get physically active, manage stress and mental well-being, together,” Dr Rowe-Porter said.
For more information, visit MOHW’s social media pages (@themohwgovjm) and enter their WHD competition by posting your photos and videos showing what you and your family are doing to give your heart all it desires by living a healthy lifestyle.
Lifestyle changes are key to preventing and reducing the chances of getting heart disease, especially cardiovascular disease. These include:
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet
• Be more physically active
• Keep to a healthy weight
• Give up smoking
• Reduce your alcohol consumption
• Keep your blood pressure, blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and blood glucose under control
• Manage stress
• Get adequate rest
Additionally, the status of your heart should be checked regularly along with your blood pressure, heart rate, body mass index (BMI, a measurement to determine excess weight for your height) and investigations recommended by your healthcare provider.