7 SIMPLE STEPS TO A healthier heart

With hundreds of South Africans dying from heart disease every day, what can you do to boost your cardiac health?

Cardiovascular disease is one of the top three killers in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly due to the fact that the major risk factors, which include high blood pressure, smoking and poor eating and exercise habits, are on the rise. We asked the experts for some tips to help ensure you have a healthy heart…

7 SIMPLE STEPS TO A healthier heart Photo Gallery

Did you know? Around 210 people in South Africa die from heart disease every day


Tell your doctor if cardiovascular disease runs in your family, as it’s likely to mean you have an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, angina, having a heart attack or having a stroke. Scientists at the University of Leicester have devised a new blood test that will calculate your coronary ‘risk score’ 10 years in advance by analysing minute differences in your genes. The test is still in the development stage, so it won’t be available for some time.


Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing an abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure, or having a stroke. Keeping a ‘booze diary’ can help you easily see how much you’re drinking and whether you need to cut back. The recommended limit for women is 14 units a week (six 175ml glasses of 13% wine).


Studies at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute show that aged (fermented) garlic could slow down the build-up of plaque that clogs the arteries and that triggers heart attacks. Try using fermented black garlic in cooking (try blackgarlic.co.za or simplygarlic. co.za), or take a garlic-based supplement like Vitaforce Aged Garlic (R149,95, Dis-Chem).


Research has shown that eating a Mediterranean-inspired diet could prevent heart diseaserelated deaths. ‘A diet of high-fibre food, healthy fats, lean meat, and low-fat dairy will benefit the heart,’ says nutritionist Rob Hobson. ‘Making small switches, like grilling food instead of frying, cutting back on processed foods and ditching the salt, which can lead to high blood pressure, can all make a big difference.’


Exercise can halve your risk of heart disease and keep your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check. ‘Opt for aerobic exercise – anything that gets your heart pumping but still allows you to talk,’ says personal trainer Dawn Matthewman. Cycling is a great option if you don’t feel comfortable running as it’s kinder to your joints, meaning you’re less likely to suffer an injury. Whatever exercise you choose, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week.


Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. This is the ‘bad’ LDL and it causes plaque to build up on the artery walls, which can cause heart attacks and strokes. Overall, treatment with statins has significantly reduced the number of deaths associated with heart attacks worldwide, and they are one of the most commonly prescribed medications. WHY THE CONCERN? There have been conflicting reports about the effectiveness of statins, with concerns about side effects that range from muscle pain to kidney damage, liver failure and type 2 diabetes. WHAT’S NEW? A recent major review looking at 30 years of statin research by Professor Rory Collins, of the University of Oxford, and published in The Lancet, suggests that statins are safe and that their benefits have been underestimated, while potential harms exaggerated. However, there is doubt in the research, with some claiming adverse side effects are more common than the study initially implied. SHOULD I BE TAKING THEM? More positive research by Peking University Health Science Centre in China found that statins can not only help prevent heart attacks, but can also reduce heart attack severity. ‘If you’ve had a heart attack, you’re automatically at greater risk of having another, so this evidence is extremely encouraging,’ says Dr Mike Knapton, who specialises in heart health.


Ubiquinol! You may not have heard of it, but the body produces co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a powerful antioxidant that’s converted into ubiquinol, which is highly concentrated in the heart. But our ability to convert CoQ10 into ubiquinol diminishes as we age, and taking statins (see box) also reduces your CoQ10 levels. ‘Increasing scientific evidence demonstrates that ubiquinol is a vital co-factor for good cardiovascular health,’ says cardiologist Dr Ross Walker, who recommends an ubiquinol supplement if you’re taking statins, or generally to boost your heart-health profile. Try Solal Ubiquinol Co-Q10 (R439,95, Dis-Chem).


Ditching the cigarettes is still the single best thing you could do to improve your heart health – smokers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as people who don’t. ‘Smoking releases a chemical called acrolein that stops ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein cholesterol from transporting the ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein cholesterol back to your liver for processing,’ says GP Dr Sarah Brewer. ‘Poor functioning of the kidneys, liver or thyroid gland can also raise cholesterol levels.’

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