Danie Botha is a physician and guest posts about how to keep your heart healthy.
February is National Heart Month.
Let me explain how you can give yourself the gift of life.
Yeah, yeah, I heard the sigh. And yes, it’s another “awareness initiative.” Is this really necessary you ask? If it’s not our livers and our kidneys, then it’s our ovaries and prostates the government is concerned with. Now they wish to tell us what to do with our hearts!
“At least February only has twenty-eight days,” you grumble, “so I’ll be off the hook sooner, getting on with my life. And anyway, it’s only overweight males who smoke that get heart attacks. I’m fine—let me be.”
Not so fast. Coronary heart disease is a silent killer—especially among women.
- Every year in the US about 720,000 people get heart attacks.
- About half of them—380,000, will die.
- To put it in a different perspective—annually 37,000 people die in the US in motor vehicle accidents.
- Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. It is more deadly than all the cancers combined.
- In women, 1 in 31 deaths is due to cancers, while 1 in 7,5 is due to coronary heart disease.
It not all bad—there is good news!
There’s a lot you and I can do to “pamper” our hearts without breaking the bank, straining our backs, selling our souls, or losing our minds. It is possible to (significantly) reduce our chances of running into problems with our cardiovascular health.
Coronary heart disease is the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in arteries, in those blood vessels supplying the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients.
- A sudden blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction.)
- Abnormally high cholesterol and specifically the LDL cholesterol is the main culprit. Our genes play an important role in all of this, but diet and lifestyle are the determining factors.
- Over your genes, you have less control, but you can choose what you eat and what you do (to a large extent.)
Coronary artery disease starts in childhood, although it may take decades before the first symptoms arrive.
- Atherosclerotic plaque has been found in autopsies of apparent healthy twenty-two-year-old soldiers.
- Even in newborns, it has been shown to be present.
- Not only does it matter whether a pregnant women smokes or uses alcohol, but also what she eats and how active she is.
It is a myth that only “old” people (and obese and overweight men who smoke) get heart attacks. It is also a misconception that it will always warn you with chest pain. Many who suffer a massive heart attack never had any symptoms.
Numerous studies have shown how the eating habits of people and regions can make the occurrence of coronary heart disease almost unheard of. For example, in rural China and sub-Saharan African regions, the chronic (lifestyle) diseases that kill millions in the West every year, were mostly absent. It is not only because of their genes, which are different. Once individuals and families from these regions move to the “West” and adopt the same lifestyle and diet, they also develop coronary heart disease.
The Chinese (and Asian), and African diets, though all different, share commonalities. All are centered on plant-derived foods, such as grains, fruit, and vegetables. By eating vast amounts of fiber and little animal products (animal fat, meat, dairy & eggs), their cholesterol remains low.
It means: coronary heart disease may be a choice.
Yes, healthier food choices are often more expensive than the unhealthy processed and deep-fried alternatives.
- Some even argue good health is a privilege of the rich.
- Although there is some truth to the latter statement, it is important to note that in these mentioned regions in rural China and sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of the people live in (relative) poverty, and yet, few of them get heart attacks.
Not only is it possible to prevent many heart attacks from happening, but it is also possible to reverse existing atherosclerotic artery disease through what we eat and what we do.
You can give yourself the gift of life.
Within weeks to months, you will notice the difference if you change what you eat and how you move. No thank you, you say. I’ll just take the statin- cholesterol-lowering drugs my doctor prescribes to “fix” the coronary artery disease.
Here’s the thing: These drugs don’t work as well as people think (and pharmaceutical companies claim they do), and they have significant side effects, ranging from:
- liver damage
- muscle weakness
- memory loss
- risk of diabetes
- increased risk of breast cancer.
I’m not saying stop your medications. Absolutely not.
Here’s what I do recommend: Do these TWO things:
1. Change what you eat.
- No, it’s not ANOTHER DIET.
- Your body needs the phytonutrients, vitamins & minerals found in plant-based foods.
- It doesn’t only keep you healthy—it prevents & reverses disease
- Fruits & vegetables:
- 3-5 servings of fruit per day
- Color is crucial; the more color the more phytonutrients: purple/reds/green/orange/yellow—all the eatable berries
- Frozen fruit retains much of the essential nutrients
- 5-7 servings of vegetables per day
- Steam or eat raw
- Color is king: green/orange/red/purple/yellow
- Avocado, olive oil, canola (Avoid low-fat dressings!)
- Solve food cravings by giving your body what it really needs
- Herbs & Spices: turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, rosemary, garlic, chili peppers
- Limit animal products:
- Limit meat & animal fat
- Less dairy
- Fewer eggs
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water per day. More, depending on how strenuous your workout and fluid loss
- Have a look at these two books: How Not to Die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease by Michael Greger, MD. Chef MD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine by John La Puma, MD.
2. Change how you move (and how often.)
- Become fit. Really fit. (But it is also crucial that you change what you eat.)
- I’m no athlete, you say. Got nothing to do with it. We’re talking about reversing the chronic lifestyle diseases. Just start.
- It doesn’t matter how old you are. You’re never too old. (Have a look at what 105-year-old Robert Marchant, Parisian cyclist does.)
- Four types of exercise: cardio (aerobic), strengthening (resistance), stretching & balance
- Start with cardio (walk/cycle/swim.) If you’re unfit start with a 15-min walk.
- Increase duration, frequency & intensity each week
- Resistance & strengthening exercises. Build muscle. 3 x week. (A $6.00 resistance band is an inexpensive, but effective place to start.)
- Yes, strength exercises are for women as well. (It simultaneously boosts your bone health!)
- “Forget” the bathroom scale a bit
- Once a week:
- look in a (full-length) mirror
- measure your fitness & strength
- you may weigh yourself
It is more important to focus on body composition, fitness, strength, and a sense of wellbeing, than on a number on a scale!
You don’t have to swallow hands full of prescription and supplement pills daily to control chronic lifestyle diseases if you change what you eat and how often you move.
And, you’re never too old to start!
CALL TO ACTION
Do TWO things: 1. Change what you eat. 2. Change how often you move.
Why don’t you give yourself (and your loved ones), the gift of life?
A healthier heart is within your reach!
Danie Botha was born in Zambia. It’s true that they could watch the hyenas at night from their hostel bedroom windows. He completed his school education and medical training in South Africa. Anesthesiology specialization followed later. He has called Canada home for the past 19 years. He blogs about positive aging, ethical medicine, and writing as healing. He writes short stories, creative nonfiction, poetry and contemporary and modern historical fiction. He has published two novels, a novella, and a short story. He draws, fools around with a camera, and is a fitness enthusiast. Visit Danie at DanieBotha.com
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