Prevent heart disease with positive thinking, healthy eating and adequate exercise.

The theme for this year's World Heart Day (WHD) is “One World, One Home, One Heart”. The aim of WHD is prevention of heart attack (ischemic heart disease or IHD) in all its stages: primordial, primary, secondary and tertiary.

Efforts to fight cardiovascular disease rest not only with policy makers and doctors, but also with individuals. Heart attack is a lifestyle disease and is preventable. Lifestyle is nothing but the behaviour of an individual driven by mindset.

Negative stress

The mind decides the position of the stress pendulum: either on the positive or the negative side. If it swings to the negative side, it triggers a psycho-neuro-humoro-viscero-immune chain reaction ending in excess pumping of the fright, flight and fight hormones (adrenaline, nor-adrenaline and cortisol) into the blood. This leads to high blood pressure and, if maintained for long, to diabetes mellitus, elevation of bad cholesterol and decrease in good cholesterol HDL.

Negative stress leads to overeating and thereby to obesity. Sedentary life, smoking and alcohol abuse add to the problem. These trigger excess release of free radicals that damage body tissues.

Finally this culminates in the narrowing of coronary arteries by the following three mechanisms - narrowing of coronary arteries due to atheromatous plaque or deposits of excess cholesterol; erosion or rupture of the plaque resulting in instantaneous blood clot; acute coronary spasm or sudden temporary cessation of blood supply to the heart - either independently or in combination resulting in a heart attack.

In complete contrast, keeping the stress pendulum on the positive side enhances the secretion of the well being hormones such as endorphins, melatonin and serotonin.

All this plays a vital role in preventing heart attacks as well as in reversing blocks in coronary arteries. Coronary interventions like stenting and coronary bypass surgery are only temporary. The only permanent remedy is by effective and positive lifestyle modification.

Steps to a healthy heart

A positive attitude with a balanced approach to life

Avoid mental stress and strain

Eat a healthy balanced diet. Include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day

Avoid saturated fats and transfats

Regular aerobic exercise of 30 minutes a day

Regular meditation of 20 minutes a day

Maintain optimal body weight. Avoid abdominal obesity

Avoid excess salt to maintain normal blood pressure

Avoid tobacco in all forms including passive smoking

Avoid alcohol

Include physical activity in your daily schedule. Cycle to work if possible, take the stairs, go for a walk during lunch breaks

The writer is a Chennai-based cardiologist.

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012