A HEALTHY HEART -PART 1

Leading a Balanced Lifestyle.

Human longevity and good health are affected by one’s lifestyle.  Controlling preventing and eradicating faulty habits can reduce and remove mortality and ensure a productive life.

Overeating – An Obese Problem.  Obesity has a direct relationship with disease, disability and death.  Central obesity – when the waist is bigger than the hips is a risk factor for heart attacks.  Except for a rare instance when an obese individual may enjoy good health into old age, generally obesity is inversely proportional to long life.

Cutting down on Cholesterol.  As the weight rises, the cholesterol also rises and this equation is by and large diet-related.  The ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ cholesterol called HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) comes down as the body weight goes up.  We should therefore, eat foods which do not increase bad cholesterol (LDL) Low Density Lipoprotein and lower the HDL since the HDL is a protective factor against heart attacks.  The dietary source of cholesterol is food of animal origin such as milk, dairy products and meat.  Cumulative data of various studies from several countries show that as the cholesterol levels increase so do the trends of mortality due to cardiovascular disease.  Again, if we add smoking to obesity this then adds fuel to the fire, thus further increasing mortality and morbidity, especially due to cardiovascular diseases in both males and females.

There is enough evidence to show that overweight shortens the lifespan, and overweight is usually caused by overeating and eating calorie-rich foods such as sweets and fried foods.  We must therefore attack the problem at its roots by restricting food intake to avoid becoming fat.  Losing weight through high cost slimming centres is only a temporary achievement, permanent eight loss can only be attained by consuming a low-calorie balanced vitamin-protein diet, supplemented by regular physical exercise.

An American physician named Dean Ornish wrote a book on reversal of atherosclerosis.  He stated that if the diet was changed from non-vegetarian to vegetarian and regular physical exercise, yoga and meditation were incorporated, atherosclerosis – the narrowing of partially blocked arteries – could be reversed.  Food for the heart comprises: (1) a balanced diet containing high fibre, complex carbohydrates like root vegetables (2) regular physical exercise and (3) a relaxed mind.  This is the tripod of longevity.

Circulation of the Blood.

Blood flows in a continuous stream even when the heart relaxes between contractions.  Arteries have thick walls so that they can sustain the high pressure created when the heart pumps blood through them.  The arteries expand and then relax to push the blood forward.  Veins have thinner walls than the arteries because the blood flowing through them flows at a lower pressure.  Veins contain valves which prevent the backflow of blood away from the heart.  Capillaries are the smallest blood vessels through which food and oxygen pass into the tissue fluid and, in return, waste is carried in a reverse direction.

A vegetarian diet does not provide permanent immunity from heart attacks, consuming meat in moderation, especially white meat and fish along with the usual quota of vegetables and fruits may not be harmful for health in general and the heart in particular.  If the uric acid and blood cholesterol levels are normal a mixed non-vegetarian and vegetarian diet is better for a healthy heart.

It is a common saying that we become what we eat.  Foods that protect against heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer – the main modern killers – are vegetables, whole fruits, coarse grains and bread made from coarse ground flour.  Milk and yogurt should be taken in moderation and extra salt and alcohol should be avoided.  A diet rich in potassium, fresh whole fruits, vegetables and nuts and an intake of low sodium and avoid preserved packet foods and pickles is helpful in the prevention of hypertension and stroke.

Staying Physically Fit.

Along with a balanced diet, physical exercise plays an important role in achieving a long and healthy life.  We know that physically active populations have a higher longevity than physical inactive or sedentary ones.

Old age is not the end of the drama of life but only another episode with a new set up and some changes in the orchestra and the stage.  Several historic contributions in the fields of arts, education and culture have come from people in their ‘twilight’ years.  So a disciplined and well-adhered to routine can prove these lines to be true. “To be seventy years young is far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old”.