Heart disease risk can be greatly reduced with these simple lifestyle tips from Assistant Professor Tan Swee Yaw, Senior Consultant, Department of Cardiology and Director, Cardiovascular Rehabilitation and Preventive Cardiology, National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

3. Eat healthy

“By choosing foods low in fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar but high in fibre, you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and other chronic illnesses,” says Asst Prof Tan. Here are the basic ways you can improve your diet for the sake of your heart:

  • Lower your fat intake. Avoid deep fried foods, adopt low-fat cooking methods and choose lean meat. Stir-frying, boiling or even steaming methods of food preparation will significantly lower the fat content of your dishes.
  • Reduce your cholesterol intake. Limit your consumption of organ meats, shellfish, prawns and crabs.
  • Cut down on your sodium intake. If you cook, use less salt and monosodium glutamate. Foods with hidden salt such as preserved vegetables should be consumed in moderation. A salt-free diet can potentially lower systolic blood pressure by up to 8 mmHg.
  • Consume less sugar. “Choose plain water, plain tea or coffee instead of highly sweetened fruit-flavoured and syrup drinks,” says Asst Prof Tan. Processed drinks and fruit juices are “hidden calories”. Recent studies have demonstrated that up to 22 per cent of our dietary calories may come from sweetened drinks and fruit juices.
  • Increase your fibre intake. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and choose high-fibre alternatives to rice and cereal products. Celery, for example, is a good source of fibre. It only gives 6 calories per stalk which may be less than what is required by the body to digest it.

4. Exercise regularly

Exercise is an essential component in maintaining a healthy heart. This holds true for healthy individuals and patients with existing coronary artery disease. Regular physical activity, especially those types that involve large muscle groups such as swimming, walking, Pilates and yoga, produces cardiovascular adaptations that increase exercise capacity, endurance and strength.

Besides fending off cardiovascular disease and other death-causing disorders, regular exercise also helps you to:

  • Lose weight effectively. Combining dieting with regular exercise is the most effective way to burn excess kilos.
  • Relieve stress. Feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins are released during exercise, helping to combat anxiety and depression. Although blood pressure is elevated during exercise (which is normal), after the activity, the blood pressure is generally lower as most of our blood vessels are dilated. Exercise will generally lead to a lower blood pressure, helping you to keep it under control.
  • Sleep better. With regular exercise, you’ll fall asleep faster and have little trouble staying awake during the day.

Generally it is advised to partake in 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to experience the above health benefits.

5. Manage your stress

Apart from causing headaches, insomnia and digestive problems, stress can also raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as encourage you to eat too much and smoke more. “Recent research shows that within two hours of an angry outburst, a person’s risk of heart attack nearly gets multiplied by 5,” says Asst Prof Tan.

While no one can eliminate stress entirely, you can learn to cope with stress better.

  • Exercise regularly as it offers a calming effect that lasts longer than the exercise itself.
  • Take a short walk or have a quiet moment alone when stress starts to build.
  • Have enough sleep. Studies have shown sleeping less than 4 hours daily is associated with an increase in coronary artery disease. Ideally one should sleep for 6-8 hours each day

See previous page for more tips on reducing your risk of heart disease.

Ref: R14