I WANT you to close your eyes and place a hand over your heart. I would like you to be mindful of its rhythmic beating and relish it. Of all our organs, the heart is the one we are most aware of.
A heart that works well effectively delivers oxygen to muscles and important organs. It’s our life-blood, so it’s important to take care of it and keep it in good working condition. The wellbeing of our heart is affected by several factors. Our gender, age and ethnicity are not in our control. But lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise and smoking are definitely within our control and we can do something to make it better.
Making a few simple tweaks to our diet and lifestyle can result in an impactful difference to one’s heart and overall quality of health. And believe me, it’s not that difficult to do if you set your heart on it.
CHECK ON YOUR CHOLESTEROL
A high level of LDL (the bad cholesterol) can cause your blood vessels to narrow due to a build-up of fat deposits. This build-up limits blood flow, causing problems in the proper functioning of your heart in the long run.
Cutting down on fatty foods, especially those high in saturated fat, is key to keeping your cholesterol level in check. Foods containing saturated fat include red meat (beef/lamb/mutton), pork, and the skin of poultry, beef fat (tallow), lard (pork fat), dairy products such as butter, cheese, egg yolk, palm oil and coconut oil.
Processed foods such as cookies, cakes, pre-cooked canned or packaged foods and fast foods also contain high amounts of saturated fat. You don’t have to totally give up these foods, but it helps to be mindful of the amount you consume on a daily basis.
They should not make up a large part of your daily diet. Heart health guidelines recommend no more than five per cent of your daily calorie intake to be from saturated fat. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories in a day, no more than 120 calories from that should be in the form of saturated fat. That is equivalent to 13 grammes of saturated fat. My advice is to read the nutrition panel on food packages to see the amount of saturated fat per serving.
BE AWARE OF YOUR BLOOD SUGAR
Keep an eye on your blood sugar level as well. If it is higher than the acceptable normal level, it can damage your blood vessels and affect your heart over time. If you have a family history of diabetes, it is prudent to take steps to prevent high blood sugar. Test your blood sugar annually and maintain a healthy weight.
STAY WITHIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Being overweight is a risk factor for developing coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health conditions. Many of my clients have different stories regarding being overweight.
For some their weight creeps up due to a high workload at the office, overeating, late night suppers and entertaining too many clients. Whatever the reason for the weight gain, it is something you need to be mindful of because it can truly accumulate and become harder to lose.
My advice is to buy a weighing scale to keep track of your weight every week so that you are aware if it is creeping up. Apart from weight, your waist circumference is also an indicator of health risk pertaining to the amount of fat around your waist. The recommended waist circumference is below 88cm for women and below 102cm for men. More importantly, don’t live in denial. If you need help, do see a dietitian who can help guide you on eating more healthily.
Our heart is a muscle, so the best way to keep it strong is to be physically active. The benefits of being active are improved stamina, and blood circulation and the ability to maintain a healthy weight. Plus, being physically active helps increase HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
I not only see physical changes in my clients who exercise regularly, they also become more careful about their food choices as they know the effort it takes to burn off the calories.
Smoking and vaping strains your heart and has a host of negative health implications. The best thing you can do for your heart and health is to quit and the earlier you stub out, the better your heart and body will feel.
If you need support to stop smoking, do join our Ministry of Health’s free programme called MQuit, which is available at health clinics and general hospitals nationwide. Smokers are given resources, guidance and support by trained healthcare professionals to kick the habit.
Go to jomquit.moh.gov.my to know more.
*Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple, practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at [email protected]