The heart is an important organ because it sustains life. Dr Paul Kasenene, a nutritionist at Wellcare Centre, says a number of people have poor health seeking behaviour and only seek medical assistance when they are in intense pain.
“Many times because we do not feel unwell, we do not bother to go for medical checkups. However, when it comes to the heart, regular checks are very vital,” Dr Kasenene advises.
With heart disease, cholesterol and fibrous materials in artery walls forms a plaque or lesion, eventually setting the stage for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This means blood does not flow optimally through stiff arteries which leads to heart attacks.
There are medical tests that can provide a comprehensive picture of your heart health and these include body Mass Index to assess your weight, a body fat percentage test to find out what percentage of your body is fat and a visceral fat test to assess the amount of fat around the organs. Others include waist to hip ratio, blood pressure test, blood sugar test and a fasting lipid profile (cholesterol test).
If you are overweight, have high blood pressure or diabetes, if you smoke, drink alcohol or have any cardiovascular symptoms, you should also go for a C-reactive protein test to tell the level of inflammation in the body, a fasting insulin test to measure the amount of hormone that controls blood sugar and Vitamin D level test since the vitamin is optimal for cardiac health function.
Dr Levi Kwarisiima, a cardiologist at Mulago National referral Hospital, says besides the tests, there are lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your heart health.
Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity increases the risk for several health complications including heart disease. To calculate your maximum healthy weight target multiply your height in metres by 25 and then by your height in metres again.
The formula is H x 25 x H. For someone who is 1.73 metres, the maximum healthy weight is 1.73 x 25 x1.73 = 74kg.
Avoid sitting a lot and get more active. “People who sit for long risk cardiovascular challenges and these significantly increase your risk for deep vein clots, especially when travelling,” Dr Kwarisiima says.
Physical activity such as brisk walking is known to lower the risk of death or heart disease and stroke. Avoid sitting for more than one hour at a time. Take regular breaks and walk or walk part of your journey to and from work and do activities such as washing your car.
“Make a commitment to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If this seems difficult, break it down into 10-minute periods. Even if you are busy, spare a few minutes in the morning and in the evening to exercise,” Dr Kwarisiima says.
Eat for your heart
Avoid sugar and sugar-rich foods such as soda and packed juices. Fat, combined with refined sugar worsen your heart health. Dr Kasenene recommends eating foods high in omega 3 fats such as avocado, chia seeds, flax seeds, fish and nuts. These fats help reduce clots, improve heart health and even help with weight loss.
Foods that are rich in gut microbiome play a significant role in heart disease. “Besides fibre, support your heart health by incorporating fermented foods into your diet because they contain probiotics and prebiotics that support a healthy gut and a healthy heart at the same time,” Dr Kasenene says.
“Avoid smoking and exposure to second hand smoke. Be deliberate and firm about avoiding environments where people smoke, especially when you are with children,” Dr Kwarisiima says. Studies show that the risk for developing heart disease is about 30 per cent higher for people exposed to second hand smoke regularly.