Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle

How Heart Healthy is your Family?

  • Paarl Dietitians
  • Category Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle

Heart disease or medically referred to as cardiovascular disease refers to any disease of the heart and blood vessels. The most common ones are diseases of the heart muscle, stroke, heart attacks, heart failure as well as heart disease caused by high blood pressure.

If you suffer from any of the above-mentioned conditions or presents with a family history – it is extremely important to know YOUR risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Making the right dietary and lifestyle changes can improve your heart health and alter the statistics.

Did you know?

  • One South African suffers a heart attack or stroke every 4 minutes and one South African dies due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) every 8 minutes.
  • CVD kills 200 people in South Africa daily, which is about the amount of 13 mini bus loads per day!
  • For every woman that dies of CVD, 2 men will die.
  • Over the past few years more and more ‘young’ people are diagnosed with CVD. Early deaths caused by CVD in people of working age (35-65) are expected to increase by 41% by 2030.

Scary statistics you might think….but I’m too young or I don’t have a family history of heart disease and therefor are not at risk. Well stop right there – let’s put your heart under the magnifying glass and investigate your disease risk.

Why should I look at my risk factors?

Risk factors are those habits or conditions that make you more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Cardio vascular risk factors may also increase the chances that an existing heart disease (like high cholesterol) can get worse and cause a heart attack. In people who presents with more than one risk factor the chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke increase exponentially with each additional risk factor. What this means, for instance is if someone presents with 3 cardiovascular disease risk factors their risk of heart disease is not 3 + 3 + 3 = 9 but actually 3 x 3 x 3 = 27. Therefore, for each risk factor that you are able to control or change, you can also exponentially decrease your risk of heart disease. Certain risk factors like age, gender and family history we are unable to change but others we can alter. More than 56% of all South Africans (between the age of 15 and 64 years) have at least one risk factor they are able to change.

What is my risk of heart disease?

You can see how healthy your heart is by doing the heart health quiz in this newsletter.  Complete the quiz and tally up your total points. The more points you have, the more risk factors are present and the higher your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Heart Health Quiz:

If you are male and above the age of 55 give yourself 1 point or if you’re female and going through menopause give yourself 2 points.

If you have immediate family (siblings or parents) that are diagnosed with heart disease problems such as stroke, cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart attack add 2 points.

If anyone in your immediate family had an early heart attack, father or brother before age 55 and mother and sister before age of 65, add 1 more point.

If any family, not immediate family (uncles, aunts, grandparents) presents with any heart disease problems such as stroke, cholesterol, high blood pressure or had a heart attack add 1 point

Measure your weight, height and calculate your Body mass index (BMI) by dividing your weight (kg) with your height (in metres) squared e.g. BMI= kg ÷ m2. A BMI less than 18.5 add 1 point, BMI 18.9 – 24.9 add 0 points, BMI 24.9 – 29.9 add 1 point, BMI more than 30 add 2 points. If you don’t know your weight, add 1 point.

With a measuring tape, measure your waist circumference. If you are male with circumference of more than 102 cm and female more than 88cm add 2 points. For circumference of men 94 – 102 cm and women 80 – 88cm, add 1 point. For waist circumferences unknown, add 1 point.

How often do you exercise?

  • Not doing any exercise add 3 points
  • Exercise equal to or less than 3 times per week for less than 30 minutes per session, add 2 points
  • Exercising at a very low intensity (slow walking) for less or at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week add 1 point
  • Exercise for 30 minutes or more, 5 times per week at a moderate or high intensity (sweating and heart rate increased) subtract 1 point
  • Exercise for 60 minutes or more, 5 times per week at a moderate or high intensity (sweating and heart rate increased) subtract 2 points

Smoking: social smoking add 1 point, smoking more than 1 cigarette per day add 2 points, smoke pipe or cigars add 1 point, if you are daily exposed to second hand smoke (living with a smoker) add 1 point.

Alcohol: female and consuming more than 1 drink per day add 1 point, male and consuming more than 2 drinks per day add 1 point, if you binge drink on occasions add 1 point (if above two questions applicable, add an additional point).

Stress levels: Struggling to fall asleep at night, add 1 point, under stress at work or home, add 1 point.

When looking at dietary habits, add points accordingly:

  • Consuming take-ways or ready to eat meals more than once a week add 1 point
  • Consuming 2 or more portions of chocolate, cake, pudding, sweets per week add 1 point
  • Using full cream dairy products add 1 point
  • Skipping meals add 1 point
  • Eating ribs, polony, viennas, sausage or salami more than twice a week add 1 point
  • Eating less than 1 fruit per day add 1 point
  • Eating less than 1 cup cooked vegetables or raw salad per day add 1 point
  • Consuming less than 1 cup legumes (peas, lentils, corn) x 1 per week add 1 point
  • Adding salt at the table add 1 point

If you have Diabetes add 1 point and add additional point if your HbA1c is more than 7%, add 1 point if you don’t know what your HbA1c is

Do you suffer from high blood pressure? Add 1 point.

If your total cholesterol is more than 4.5mmol/L add 1 point, cholesterol level not known add 2 points, Lipogram (HDL, LDL, Triglyceride levels) not known add 2 points.

Tally up your points to evaluate your risk, the lower the points, the lower your risk:

< 10 points:  You are very healthy! Well done in having a low risk for developing heart disease, keep it up! By following a heart healthy diet, doing regular exercise and staying aware of your risks adds up to your healthy, happy and long life free from illness and disease.

10 – 20 points:  You are at moderate risk for heart disease! Get to know your risk factors and learn how you can alter them. Follow a heart healthy diet, low in saturated and trans fatty acids as well as high in omega 3 fatty acids. Keep an eye on the scale and the waistline to prevent other metabolic related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. Change WILL definitely improve your health and reduce your risk – we at Vergelegen Dietitians can help you by assessing your current dietary intake, lifestyle, medical history and advise you accordingly.

>20 points: Oh dear, you are at HIGH risk for heart disease! If you do not decrease your risk by changing your diet and lifestyle, your ticker will most definitely develop some mechanical problems. If you are overweight, then losing weight should be one of your first priorities since body fat is living tissue and demands its own supply of oxygen – putting unnecessary strain on your heart. Studies show that for every 14kg of excess weight, there are 40km of extra blood vessels through which blood must be pumped – increasing the workload on your heart. It is not only the scale that needs to be monitored, but the waistline is even more important, as it has been found that people with and ‘apple’ shape (more fat around the waist than around the hip area) have an increased risk of heart disease than those with the ‘pear’ shape (where the fat is mostly around the hips). Having an ‘apple’ shape figure also puts you at risk for diabetes mellitus, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, cancer, arthritis and many more. It is of great importance that you put your diet and lifestyle under the magnifying glass and start to change your risk factors one by one… leading a life towards a happy heart.

If you are concerned about your heart health, make an appointment with your doctor or a dietitian for a personal health assessment and obtain the individualised dietary advice specific to your risk profile. The good news is that by making the necessary changes NOW, you are able to reduce your risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack significantly.

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