World Heart Day: Healthy lifestyle can reduce risk of heart disease

by Otávio Clark | Sep 29, 2016

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), about 17.5 million people die every year due to heart diseases, approximately 31% of all deaths around the globe. In Brazil alone, more than 346,000 people died from heart disease in 2015, according to the Brazilian Society of Cardiology (SBC). Despite the alarming numbers, changes in lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing heart diseases.

World Heart Day, celebrated on September 29, seeks to educate people not only about heart problems but mostly about the care that must be taken to prevent them. With the slogan “Power Your Life,” the global campaign emphasizes that small changes can make a big difference when it comes to heart health. Avoiding alcohol and smoking, seeking to have a healthier diet and performing physical exercise are the first steps to prevent heart disease.

Change of habit

Quitting smoking brings almost immediate benefits. In just one year of quitting, the risk of developing heart diseases is about half that of a smoker; in 15 years, the risk is almost equal to that of someone who never smoked.

Diet also deserves special attention. Avoiding fatty food is essential to prevent the increase of bad cholesterol, which can lead to coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. Also, fruits, vegetables and grains are also good for heart health. Eating fruits and vegetables not only helps prevent heart diseases, it can also help improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And taking care of diet means also paying attention to the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Excessive alcohol intake can increase triglyceride levels and blood pressure, leading to heart failure, and even increase the risk of developing cardiomyopathy and cardiac arrhythmia.

Practicing physical activity helps control weight and reduces the chances of developing other conditions that may put heart health at risk, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It is recommended to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. The good news is that this time can be divided (three intervals of 10 minutes, for example). Also, climbing stairs, walking to the grocery store, walking the dog and even gardening counts towards this total.

Kantar Health developed an infographic with data collected on the prevalence of risk factors for heart disease. The chart also shows that many people are willing to adopt changes in lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. The survey interviewed about 2 million people in the United States, Russia, Japan, China, Brazil and five European countries. The infographic can be viewed in this link.

Collective effort

In addition to changes in lifestyle, WHO also encourages governments to make some interventions to contribute to the prevention of heart disease. Some of these interventions include education campaigns; tobacco control policies; taxation to reduce the intake of foods high in fat, sugar and salt; building walking and cycle paths to encourage increased physical activity; strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol; and providing healthy school meals to children.

The combined use of these strategies, together with changes in lifestyle, can significantly reduce the number of cases of heart disease in the population. The effort must be collective – and the heart appreciates it.

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