In South Africa, chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are now responsible for more deaths than HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined. Approximately 225 South Africans die from heart disease every day, while around 10 people suffer a stroke every hour!
Those are sobering statistics, but even more so when you consider that following a healthy lifestyle may prevent over 80% of heart disease cases, 50% of strokes, 80% of sudden cardiac deaths, and 72% of premature deaths related to cardiovascular conditions. When you choose healthy behaviours, you proactively lower your heart disease risk, whilst at the same time also preventing serious chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Five key lifestyle habits can dramatically reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular risk factors, and ultimately heart disease. Here is your lifestyle ‘prescription’ for a healthy heart:
Don’t smoke (or quit if you do):
The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the function of the heart and the structure and function of your blood vessels. This damage increases your risk of atherosclerosis, which over time, causes narrowing of the arteries.
Keep your waist circumference below 80cm for women, and 90cm for men
Being obese, or overweight, contributes to heart disease by increasing the risk of inflammation, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. This risk is higher especially when the excess weight is carried around your waist. Excess belly fat is also associated with fat deposits around your organs, including your heart.
Exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week
Physical activity protects you both from the development and progression of heart disease. Studies have found that people who do no exercise are more than twice as likely to have heart disease, compared to those who are regularly active.
Eat less processed food, refined carbohydrates and sugar, and eat more fresh produce
An unhealthy diet is a leading contributor to the development of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Highly processed foods, including fast-foods, take-aways and convenience foods, contain a large amount of hidden sugar, salt and preservatives. Collectively, these types of ingredients cause increased inflammation, insulin resistance, and weight gain. Substituting these unhealthy foods with fresh vegetables and other unprocessed food choices, can effectively lower this risk.
Sleep for 7 to 9 hours each night
Irregular sleeping habits are associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, as well as being overweight. Poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can hurt your heart; such as higher stress levels, less motivation to be physically active, and unhealthy food choices.
What is your sleep score?
Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory, it affects the way your body controls metabolism, and it helps keep you safe behind the wheel. It also helps keep you happy and level-headed and plays a role in how your body deals with disease. Sleep also plays a central role in maintaining the health of your heart, and the health of your relationships.
Besides increasing inflammation and damaging delicate blood vessels, poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that hurt your heart; including higher stress levels, less motivation to be physically active, and unhealthy food choices. Poor quality sleep may also alter your capacity to process emotions and keep them in check. This has an impact on your ability to manage existing relationships, as well as fostering new ones
Tracking your sleep can help give you an idea of how well you are currently sleeping and identify any areas where you could improve.
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