There are many factors that cause heart diseases. India has a two-three times higher percentage of heart diseases than western countries. In view of this, many lifestyle habits have been associated with poor cardiovascular health.
According to Dr Tapan Ghosh, Director and Head of Cardiology, Head of Clinical Research, Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj, there has been a rise in the number of cases of heart diseases in the country. While people in western countries mostly experience heart attacks in their 60s, back home, the age at which cardiac arrests are being complained about is 50s and, many times, 40s.
“There are different aspects of coronary artery disease. In our country, we are facing a cardiovascular epidemic. The devastating thing is that the majority of heart attacks in our country occur on an hourly basis as compared to the western population. In fact, many Indians get heart attacks ten years earlier than our counterparts,” said Dr Ghosh.
MAJOR CAUSES OF HEART DISEASE
“The risk factors are smoking, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, psychosocial factors, abdominal obesity, lack of physical exercise, lack of vegetables and fruits in the diet and alcohol consumption,” said Dr Ghosh.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR HEART HEALTHY
“If we modify our lifestyle to check all these risk factors, then we will be able to contain the heart disease in our country,” he said, while listing down ways to keep the heart healthy.
- Smoking and its consumption in any form should be avoided.
- Blood pressure (BP) should be controlled. Normal BP is 120/70. Any BP which is more than 120/75 needs attention. In fact, BP of 140/90 is called hypertension or high BP and that needs immediate medical attention.
- Blood glucose should be less than 126 (fasting). If the blood glucose (fasting) is 126 or 2 hours after eating, blood glucose is more than 200, it is called diabetes. In diabetes, we measure the memory glucose or HBA 1C, which should be kept below 6.5 percent and preferably less than 7 percent for long term complication prevention.
- For Indians, the bad cholesterol or LDL target is less than 100.
- Psychosocial factors also affect the heart health. “We should have social interaction. Day-to-day stress should be prevented. We should sleep for 7 hours a day. Doing activities that make us happy is important for the heart too. Regular physical activity and spending time beyond professional life or having fun in different aspects of life can diffuse your tension and reduce your stress level. “Lower stress level has a cardio protective effect,” said Dr Ghosh.
- Obesity should be checked. “Normally, we define obesity by body mass index, which is calculated as weight in kg divided by height in square metres. For Asian Indians, it should be less than 23. The upper cut-off limit for Asian Indians should be 22.9. For the western population, it should be 22.4, which means, above 25, they are obese. But in India, people with a BMI above 23 are considered overweight,” he said.
Dr Ghosh also pointed out a “peculiar type of obesity” that is found in the Indian population called the pot belly appearance or “apple body configuration.” “This means a person is lean and thin but has a protruding abdomen. This is a marker for coronary artery disease or heart attack in the Indian population,” he cautioned.
- He further recommended 30-40 minutes of physical activity daily. “One should have a brisk-walk regime every day. Other activities like cycling, swimming and jogging are also encouraged. These are called isotonic exercises. It is healthy for the heart. However, weight lifting, known as an isometric exercise of the muscle, is not heart-healthy,” he shared.
- There should be an increase in the intake of fruits and vegetables. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends having 600 grams of fruits and vegetables daily for cardiovascular health.
- Consumption of alcohol: “There has been intense research that alcohol in the Indian population is not cardio-protective. In the western population, alcohol reduces heart attacks by 10 percent but when we analyse the data in the Indian population, it either increases the chances of heart attack or remains neutral,” Dr Ghosh said, adding, “We do not advocate it for prevention of heart attack. For those who really want to have it, then they should restrict the consumption to 60ml per day for men and less than 30ml for women. In other words, alcohol should, possibly, be discouraged.”