2020 will be remembered as a very challenging year on all fronts. In this unprecedented time where not just health but other aspects of life such as education and businesses are all falling victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, the winds of change are going to be with us for a long time.
Let us prepare ourselves in the best possible way.
It is well known that those with co-morbidities such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension do worse after a COVID-19 infection. Therefore, it is imperative that we do our utmost to take steps to better health not just to prevent the coronavirus infection but also to remain free of heart disease – the number one killer in Malaysia and many other countries – and other diseases too.
Here are 10 heart healthy tips for the New Year, in no particular order.
- Choose a healthy and balanced diet
Avoid foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Eat foods that have high levels of vitamins and minerals which can also boost the immune system such as fruits and vegetables and also heart-healthy fatty foods rich in omega-3 such as avocados, fatty fish, olive oil and chia seeds.
- Be physically active
You can gradually work up to at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (eg. brisk walking) every week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity (eg. jogging).
- Tame your stress
Long-term stress can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure that may damage the artery walls. Learning stress management techniques not only benefits your body but also your quality of life.
- Watch your weight
In your 40s onwards, your body metabolism starts to slow down. You can avoid weight gain by following a heart healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise.
- Enjoy your work
This may sound crazy to some but if you feel miserable and stressed out at the office then you may resort to unhealthy lifestyle such as smoking, poor eating habits, insufficient rest and lack of exercise. All these can lead to heart disease. For some, the new normal of working from home leads to new problems where isolation, no limit to hours of work and lack of boundaries between work and home causes stress, anxiety and burnout.
- Learn the warning signs of a heart attack
Now is a good time to get savvy about symptoms. Not many people know that the heart sits in the middle of the chest (and not on the left) which explains why a heart attack pain is usually felt in the centre of the chest. Having said that, not everyone experiences the same kind of chest pain with heart attack and symptoms in women can be different than those in men.
- Stop smoking completely and forever!
If you smoke, do yourself and others around you a huge favour by quitting this deadly habit. Apart from heart disease and stroke, smoking also leads to cancer of various sorts. My advice is to not try to stop. Just stop! It is really a matter of decision.
- Know your numbers
Take charge of your health by keeping tabs on a few important statistics: blood pressure, blood glucose level, blood lipid levels, body mass index and waist circumference.
- Get vaccinated
Take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. Build protection against other diseases also like influenza, cervical cancer, hepatitis B and pneumonia.
- See your doctor
Start the New Year by visiting your doctor. Some conditions such as hypertension and abnormal cholesterol levels are silent killers. Heart attack and stroke can be prevented by having your doctor giving you a once-over every year.
2021 will be a better year. May it bring good health, great success and abundance of joy and happiness to all of us. Remain calm and be positive always. Above all, stay safe and stay healthy!
By Dr. Haizal Haron Kamar MBBS(Newcastle upon Tyne), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FACC(USA) FSCAI, FAPSIC(Asia Pacific), FAsCC, FNHAM, AM(MAL) Consultant Cardiologist & Physician. Special thanks to Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara