Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the world’s leading killer, causing 1 in every 3 deaths. In the Philippines, cardiovascular diseases are also the number one cause of death, with an estimated 50,000 dying every year. The cause of heart attacks and strokes are usually the presence of a combination of risk factors, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and use of alcohol, hypertension, diabetes and high level of cholesterol.
It is never too late to start changing your lifestyle towards a healthier heart. Here are a few practical steps you can follow.
1. Eat a heart healthy diet
A heart healthy diet consists of a combination of different foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Cut down on salty meats such as ham, bacon, tocino, sausage, hotdog, as well as salty food such as dried fish. Use calamansi juice and vinegar to season your food instead of high-sodium condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce, bagoong, and ketchup. Avoid the consumption of processed, canned, and fast food. Replace sweetened snacks such as doughnuts, cookies, and the like with fresh fruit and vegetables and if thirsty, substitute sweetened beverage sodas and sweetened juices with water.
2. If overweight, lose weight
Overweight and obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 and above. Central obesity or adiposity on the other hand is a high waist circumference of more than 80 cm for females and more than 90 cm for males. A high waist circumference points to more intra-abdominal fat and is associated with a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Try to reduce 500 kilocalories in your daily diet, which will help bring about an average weight loss of approximately half to almost 1 kilogram a week.
3. Increase regular physical activity to at least 2.5 hours per week
Physical activity contributes to improved blood pressure, improved levels of cholesterol and other blood lipids, and weight control. Some physical activity is better than none. Inactive people can start with small amounts of physical activity (even as a part of their normal daily activities) and gradually increase duration, frequency and intensity. Adults are recommended to perform at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, climbing stairs, dancing, gardening or doing household chores which can result in mild increase of heart rate) spread throughout the week.
4. Don’t use tobacco
Tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke are harmful to your heart. Quitting tobacco use is the biggest gift of health you can give your heart and has immediate and long-term health benefits, including living up to 10 years longer. After a year of quitting, the risk of heart disease is about half that of a smoker. Fifteen years after quitting, the risk of heart disease is the same as that of a non-smoker.
5. Avoid use of alcohol
Alcohol consumption has been linked to more than 200 disease and injury conditions, including cardiovascular diseases. While most Filipinos report their alcohol drinking as occasionally, binge drinking is common in the country. There is no safe level for drinking alcohol, so it is better to avoid drinking alcohol altogether to protect your heart.
6. Have your blood pressure and blood sugar checked regularly
An important way to maintain a healthy heart is for your blood pressure and blood sugar to be checked regularly by a health worker. Some people do not exhibit symptoms even if they already have high blood pressure – and it can hurt your heart. It is also important to talk to your health worker if you have behavioural risks (unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, use of tobacco and alcohol) so they can help you plan the lifestyle modifications you should take to get your heart health back on track. If you are diagnosed with hypertension or diabetes, set targets with your health worker and take your medicines regularly. Involve your loved ones in your journey to a healthier heart.