How do you keep your heart in tip-top shape? Dr Philip Mills, a cardiologist at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, gives us the lowdown on how best to keep an eye on your cardiovascular health.
My family have all suffered cardiovascular disease. Should I be screened?
You certainly should. In fact, we all should. While it is widely accepted that we screen for breast, colon and prostate cancer, screening for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (which occurs when your arteries clog up) is not widely practised. And yet cardiovascular disease causes more than 16 million deaths worldwide per year, compared to about seven million deaths from all cancers combined.
The good news is that fresh insight and innovative assessment technologies have meant that these days, early hints of cardiovascular disease can be picked up in even ‘healthy’ people.
Once it’s detected, you can be given lifestyle advice and treatment to modify your cardiovascular risk, and its progress can be monitored.
Who is at risk for cardiovascular disease?
If you have existing cardiovascular disease, chances are that you will require intensive lifestyle and drug intervention.
You are at risk if you have a strong family history of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and peripheral vascular disease at young ages – even if you, personally, feel healthy.
Your lifestyle choices can put you at risk too.
How do I reduce my risk?
- It’s time to give up smoking all forms of tobacco, as it triples your risk of heart disease.
- Make healthy food choices. A healthy diet will make a huge difference to the health of your arteries. Aim for a varied diet that includes fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and bread, low-fat diary products, fish and lean meat. Oily fish and omega-3 fats are particularly good for your arteries and heart. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes or cholesterol abnormalities, seek additional dietary advice. And try to cut out sugar, except in rare treats.
- Exercise regularly. We should all exercise, from childhood to old age. If you already have vascular disease, exercise will still do you good, but you need to be careful how you go about it and get expert advice before you start. While the recommended goal is at least half an hour of physical activity four days a week, more moderate activity appears to offer better health benefits.
- Lose weight. You are particularly at risk if you carry an excessive amount of weight around your stomach.
- Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol. Almost two thirds of people with cardiovascular disease have abnormal cholesterol profiles and the risk of cardiovascular disease increases continuously as blood pressure rises. Your practitioner will decide whether you need cholesterol medication, as well as lifestyle changes, depending on your blood pressure and your cardiovascular risk.