Your heart is what keeps you alive. It is the only organ in the body that never rests. Simple changes to your lifestyle will help you protect and nurture it

The human heart is truly a remarkable organ—it beats around 35 million times a year and in average lifetime, it helps pump about 1 million barrels of blood into your body. It's no wonder then that this organ, the size of a closed fist, can dictate your long-term health and wellbeing.

“A hundred people die of heart attacks in India every hour,” says Dr Pratiksha Gandhi, founder and chairperson of IPC Heartcare, Mumbai, (India's largest chain of preventive and non-invasive heart care). “Ignorance, not genetics, is the biggest cause of heart issues. I always tell my patients that if you have a heart, you're at risk for heart disease, so don't think that it can't happen to you.”

The good news however, is that by making these simple changes to your lifestyle today, you can even reverse heart disease and prevent a potentially painful, life threatening attack.

Understanding Heart Disease: Many people believe that heart disease is something that creeps up on them without warning. However, the fat that clogs the arteries of your heart builds up over a lifetime. And surprisingly, it starts right from the cradle. “Accumulation of fats in the arteries begins in infancy. Heart attack risk can be modified by encouraging physical activity, (developing) healthy food habits and avoiding junk food from early childhood,” says Dr KM Cherian, Chairman & CEO, International Centre for Cardio Thoracic & Vascular Diseases, (a unit of Frontier Lifeline & Dr. K.M. Cherian Heart Foundation), Chennai.

Remember, serving up unhealthy fare regularly is akin to planting a time-bomb in your chest.

Sleep to save your life: “Seven to eight hours of sleep every night is essential for keeping your hormones in working order and preventing harmful toxins from building up in your body. Or else, these toxins can later go on to clog your arteries and cause thickening that make you vulnerable to heart disease,” says Dr Pratiksha. Constant sleep deprivation will not only adversely affect your functioning and your cognitive ability, but the efficiency of your heart as well. So if you intend to live long, its more power to your pillow!

Deal with heartbreak: Heightened stress levels can quite literally break your heart. When you experience a stressful situation in your life—the death of a loved one, breaking away from a long-term relationship, recovering from a tragedy or facing intense failure, your heart takes a beating, flooded as it with stress inducing hormones. “Learning to deal with stress, even the minor irritants that clutter our daily lives is crucial,” says Dr Pratiksha. “Have some sort of outlet to release stress and to help yourself relax.”

Eat timely meals and choose good fats wisely: Eating meals on time will ensure that you don't overeat. In the long run, this can usher in weight loss. Preventive cardiologists advise against skipping meals or waiting till middle or old age to make the right food choices. Include in your diet the foods that provide you with good fats and wholesome nutrition, like nuts. “In small amounts, nuts can be part of a healthy weight loss program. Nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachio are good sources of monounsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, dietary fibre and minerals including magnesium. They also form an essential part of a heart-healthy diet. Eating them daily can lower the risk of developing heart disease,” says Dr Anoop Misra, Director and Head of the Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, Fortis Group of Hospitals, New Delhi.

Schedule frequent Activity: Your heart is a muscle and regular exercise will help it perform better, but there are no magical number of hours for which you should work out every day. It's wise to gradually step up the exercise based on your age and lifestyle, says Dr Pratiksha. “Over-exertion is harmful too. Think of exercise like a bank balance. Just as you can't write a cheque for an amount greater than what you have in your bank account, your exercise too must be in tune with your body and stamina. Always consult your physician on the amount of exercise that's healthy for you before hitting the gym, especially if you've been sedentary for a long time.”

Avoid Smoking and pollutants: “Nearly 20% of heart attacks, especially in young people are attributed to smoking. Smoking can cause a spasm in your arteries that trigger an attack,” says Dr Pratishka. Even day-to-day pollutants, such as inhaling smoke, fumes from vehicles can accumulate, causing changes over time that can thicken arterial walls.

So tweak your lifestyle to live a long and hearty life!

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012