How to keep your heart healthy as you age

According to the WHO, coronary heart disease, stroke, and hypertension contribute to 45% of all non-communicable disease-related deaths.
How to keep your heart healthy as you age
How to keep your heart healthy as you age
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While advancing age increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), living a healthy life from your youth may help prevent the disease, which is touted as the number one killer in both men and women globally as well as in India, experts suggest.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), CVDs (coronary heart disease, stroke, and hypertension) contribute to 45 per cent of all non-communicable disease-related deaths followed by chronic respiratory disease (22 per cent), cancers (12 per cent) and diabetes (three per cent).

Nearly 80 per cent of premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable, but the preventive measures should begin early.

"Preventive measures like avoiding of smoking, taking healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining an ideal weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels should begin from a very young age," Tapan Ghose, Director and Head, Department of Cardiology, at Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital, told IANS.

Heart disease is mainly caused by the build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls -- known as atherosclerosis. This build-up begins from a young age and leads to blockage where the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the requirement of the body's tissues. This results in various disorders of the heart and blood vessels.

Typical symptoms include "chest pain or angina which comes during exercise and is relieved by rest, breathlessness, palpitations, sweating, epigastric pain which patients usually attribute to acidity", Ghose added.

Some people also have a feeling of upper abdomen fullness, bloating and sour eructations (or belches) which are dismissed as being caused by acidity, but are risk factors.

Earlier this year a study, published in the journal JACC: Heart Failure, revealed that preventing the development of hypertension, obesity and diabetes in mid-life -- between the age of 45 and 55 years -- can result in an 86 per cent lower risk of heart failure throughout the remainder of life.

Prevention of these three risk factors by ages 45 and 55 years may substantially prolong heart failure-free survival, decrease heart failure-related morbidity and reduce the public health impact of heart failure.

Men at age 45 years without any of the three risk factors lived an average of 10.6 years longer free of heart failure, while women at age 45 without any of the three risk factors lived an average of 14.9 years longer without heart failure, the research showed.

Although these traditional risk factors are same in both elderly men and women, the symptoms of heart disease appear to be different in them.

"While men have more incidence of heart attack as their first symptom, women have more atypical symptoms like feeling tired, lack of energy, easy fatigability. Depression can also be a symptom of heart disease in women," explained Mukesh Goel, Senior Consultant (Cardiology) at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.

Women also tend to have a slightly delayed onset of heart disease compared to men.

"They also have some unique risk factors like relatively high testosterone levels prior to menopause, increasing hypertension during menopause, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis," Ghose noted.

A proper diet that is rich in low or saturated transfats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy oils, like mustard oil may help decrease the risk of heart disease in old age.

Due to its ideal ratio of fatty acids and natural antioxidants, mustard oil is among the healthiest edible oils.

"Mustard oil contains glucosinolate that fights microbes and has powerful antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory powers; hence it is a lot more than just a cooking medium," said Umesh Verma, spokesperson of P Mark Mustard Oil.

"A study by the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that switching to mustard oil as a cooking medium reduced the risks of coronary artery disease by more than 70 per cent," said Vivek Puri, Managing Director of Puri Oil Mills.

Moreover, reducing tobacco use, engaging in physical activity for at least 30 minutes every day of the week, eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and limiting salt intake to less than one teaspoon a day, can help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

According to American Heart Association recommendations, at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week, or a combination of the two may boost cardiovascular health.

Apart from these primary prevention measures, proper screening in both men and women at regular intervals is imperative.

"Men at 35 years of age and women at 40 years should get their base level health check. Any deranged parameters should be treated with lifestyle changes and appropriate medicines at the earliest," Goel stressed.

(Rachel V. Thomas can be contacted at

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