Your Health A-Z

Simple changes for better heart health

These and other simple lifestyle changes could help your budget, keep you calm – and, more importantly, protect your heart health in the long term.

Protecting your heart might be one of the best health investments you can make. Some of the most prevalent threats to your ticker arise from areas and activities you’d never expect.

This might be why ischaemic heart disease is the most common heart problem Dr Annari van Rensburg from Mediclinic Durbanville sees in her patients. This condition narrows the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart – and is a major cause of heart attacks. Another widespread heart issue is arrhythmia, when the heart begins to beat too fast, or too slowly.

Lifestyle plays a major role. “Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle leads to cholesterol problems, high blood pressure and insulin resistance or diabetes which are major risk factors for ischaemic heart disease,” says Dr Van Rensburg.

There are other unexpected triggers too. Here’s how to ensure they don’t affect your heart health.

Don’t drink energy drinks and supplements

The American Heart Association found that drinking up to three energy drinks a day could disrupt your heart rhythm, increase your blood pressure and can even cause a fatal heart attack. This is because most energy drinks rely on caffeine to provide their boost.

Protect yourself

Limit your caffeine intake, from all drinks, to no more than 400mg a day.

Avoid traffic jams

Researchers at the Institute of Epidemiology in Munich say when you’re stuck in traffic, toxic pollutants spewed from car exhaust pipes penetrate your lung tissue and enter the bloodstream – where they could cause blood clots.

Protect yourself

Keep your windows up when driving, especially in urban areas, and avoid cycling through high smog levels.

Be careful of BPAs in plastics

BPA, aka Bisphenol A, is a chemical found in many products such as water bottles, cans, computers, kitchen appliances and in the ink on ATM slips. A study published in PloS One found even small doses of BPA could lead to an erratic heart beat, artery disease and changes in blood pressure.

Protect yourself

Glass is good! All plastic food packaging made in SA is required to be 100% BPA-free, but limit exposure by not microwaving polycarbonate plastic food containers, avoiding canned foods and using
glass water bottles.

Be wary of shift work

A 2012 study in the British Medical Journal shows shift work leads to an increased risk for heart attack. Shift work disrupts the sleep-wake cycle, which in turn increases blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are linked to heart disease.

Protect yourself

If you regularly work shifts, ensure you get enough sleep in the daytime, in a completely dark room designed to simulate nighttime.

Take control of stress

Scientists say the “fear centre” in your brain, the amygdala, is triggered during times of stress. This causes increased inflammation in the arteries, and can lead to a higher risk of heart attack. Those with underlying heart health issues have a more active amygdala region, so are at greater risk.

Protect yourself

Meditate and try yoga – both have been shown to calm an overactive amygdala.

If you’re worried…

Visit your Mediclinic cardiologist, who will do an echocardiogram to evaluate your heart muscle and valve function plus blood tests and a stress and exercise test.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.