Cardiovascular diseases account for 170,000 deaths in the Philippines each year, making it the leading cause of mortality among Filipinos. “We need to make people more aware of the situation and to something about it,” says Dr. Imelda Angeles-Agdeppa, assistant scientist from the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI). Because February is Philippine Heart Month, here are tips on how to keep your heart happy and healthy:
1. Only eat as much calories as you can burn. Gaining too much weight ups your risk of heart disease. To know if you’re eating too much, find out how much calories you should be eating and drinking, then see if this matches your diet, says the American Heart Association (AHA). “The right number of calories to eat each day is based on your age and physical activity level and whether you're trying to gain, lose or maintain your weight.” This calorie calculator from the BBC can help you out.
The ideal scenario is that you stay within your recommended calorie intake -- if you go beyond, you should ideally burn it through exercise. “Physical activity can help you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes,” says Mayo Clinic.
Have at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, as per AHA recommendations. Thinking of it as 30 minutes a day on weekdays makes it more achievable. You don’t have to go to the gym for it either. Brisk walking is considered as moderate exercise. Cleaning the house, taking the stairs and walking the dog can also add up to your count.
2. Pick what goes on your plate. Eating healthy for your heart doesn’t have to be difficult. First off, try to cut back on saturated fat that increases your risk for high cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fat include: fatty meats that come from animals (like beef, pork and chicken), meat products (like sausages and ham), cheese, butter, margarine, coconut and palm oil, and egg yolk. Avoid fast food as well, and foods with lots of added sugar like soda, cake and pastries.
Protect your heart by having a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grain which can also lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Pair these with skinless poultry or fish. If you’re having alcohol, stick to one drink a day if you’re a woman and two if you’re a man. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? 3. Get some Zs. The easiest way to get more time in the day is to cut back on sleep, right? Wrong. Not getting enough quality sleep comes with a long list of ill health effects. It’s associated with weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and stroke, and depression. It’s not just your heart that’s affected too. It can also impair your immune function making you more susceptible to diseases and lower your productivity at work. The American Academy of Sleep recommends at least 7 hours of sleep per night for adults ages 26 to 64 on a regular basis for optimal health.
One sign of a good night’s rest is if you wake up without the help of an alarm clock feeling refreshed and ready for the day. If you struggle to get out of bed, you may need to tweak your bedtime habits. Ideally, you should be going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
4. Don’t smoke. “Tobacco is the primary risk factor in the Philippines for a range of non-communicable diseases,” according to the Department of Health. It’s the most significant risk factor for developing heart disease too, according to Mayo Clinic. The toxins you inhale from smoking replaces the oxygen in your blood. This then forces your heart to work harder to supply oxygen to your body. The chemicals can also cause plaque buildup in your arteries which increases your chances of a heart attack. It’s scary stuff. On top of that, it can also lead to lung cancer and unwanted reproductive effects.
It can be difficult to quit but the payoff is immediate. As soon as you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease is lowered, says Mayo Clinic. “Your risk of coronary heart disease significantly reduces one year after quitting smoking. Your risk of coronary heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about 15 years.”
“Quitting tobacco is not easy as tobacco dependence is a cluster of behavioural, cognitive and physiological phenomena. Very few tobacco users can successfully quit the habit in their first attempt. But the evidence is strong that it can be done,” says the World Health Organization (WHO). Looking to give it up? You can start by checking out WHO’s quit plan.
5. Schedule a checkup. One out of two Filipino adults have borderline to high cholesterol, according to the latest 2013 survey from the DOST-FNRI. That’s 46.9 percent of Filipinos ages 20 and up. High cholesterol and high blood pressure cause heart strain, but you may not know that you have it too until you schedule a checkup with your doctor. If you have not been diagnosed with any cardiovascular disease, get a blood pressure reading at least once every two years and a cholesterol level check every four to six years.