Cover story published in Shifa News, September 2016 edition

Power your life: save your heart

Pakistanis are a strange nation. People are fond of giving opinion about everything, even on matters as serious as health. Even if they do not have much idea about it. And unfortunately, others pay heed to such false advices or suggestions instead of consulting a doctor timely. This attitude has given birth to a number of myths and misconceptions in our society which tends to prolong and complicate the disease. Heart diseases are no exception in this matter.

World Health Organization reports that heart diseases are the number one killer in the world. According to Major General Azhar Mehmood, president at Pakistan Cardiac Society (PCS), 30 to 40 percent of all deaths are caused by heart diseases in Pakistan and they are still on the rise.

Dr Yousaf Hassan, a cardiologist at Shifa International Hospital, Islamabad agrees that people tend to follow advices given by the laymen for heart problems. “This shows how serious they are about their heart health. Half of the heart problems can be prevented if we change this attitude.”

Other than your genetic makeover, sedentary lifestyle such as unhealthy diet, smoking, inactivity, obesity, lack of exercise and stress are to be blamed for heart problems. “Our genes are not under our control. But we can make lifestyle changes to prevent heart problems, considering that we are well aware about the disease,” says Dr Liaquat Ali, assistant professor at Faisalabad Institute of Cardiology.

Heart disease occur only in men and elderly

It is commonly believed that heart disease occur only in men and elderly. Another misconception is that it occurs among the rich. According to Dr Liaquat, 85 percent patients in hospitals are from low mediocre working class nowadays. And most are between 35-45 years and some even younger. Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is the most common among children especially belonging to poor backgrounds.

However, in women these diseases are lesser common not because men are “victims”. But the fact that women have a natural protection which keeps their heart safe. “But women after menopause or those who are diabetic, obese or have high blood pressure are equally prone to having the disease,” he adds.

 Chubby people are healthy

One of the biggest myths in our country is considering chubby people to be healthy and lean figures to be weak. Although it is a wrong concept. Dr Yousaf highlights that every one in four people are either obese or overweight in the country. Obesity is one of the major causes of heart diseases.

 Having heart problem means early death

It is also believed that having a heart issue means early death and a heart patient should never exercise or be active. Although both are untrue. “Patients can live a normal and longer life if proper care and right treatment is taken. They can even walk and exercise according to their physician’s recommendation,” says Dr Liaquat.

 Unhealthy foods are not a big threat

Poor or unhealthy food choices are also one of the major causes of heart diseases. Red meat, bakery products, junk food, fried and fatty foods are not healthy for the heart. “Foods high in fats increase pressure on the heart and deposit in the body to disturb its normal function. This pressure becomes the cause to burst coronary arteries,” says Mahnaz Nasir, a nutritionist and dietitian at Hameed Lateef Hospital, Lahore.

Vegetable oil is better than ghee

Banaspati ghee, vegetable oil and butter contain fats and certain chemicals making them bad for health. WHO recommends canola and soya bean oil to be better alternatives. “However, overuse of any oil is harmful,” says Dr Liaquat Ali.

Olive oil is the best

Extra virgin olive oil is considered as the sole savior from diseases. According to Mahnaz, even olive oil can become harmful if used for cooking purposes. It should only be used for dressing or coating. “Carbon bonds present in the oil break when it is heated.”

“Eat heart-healthy foods or foods that do not contain saturated or trans fats such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. Involve a variety of foods in daily life instead of sticking only to one thing. Eat salad. Take fruits and try to maintain a good body weight. Plus, avoid overcooking, deep frying and using oil excessively”, says the nutritionist.

Processed foods can be given to children

It is extremely important to train children to eat healthy food since an early age. Parents tend to overlook this aspect in children and provide them all sorts of junk and processed foods that can be damaging for their health in later life. “Give them homemade lunch boxes for school so that they grow up to make healthy food choices,” says Dr Liaqat Chaudhary, a doctor based in Gujranwala.

 Smoking only affects the lungs

People think that smoking only affects the lungs. However, experts agree that smoking is also a major risk factor for heart issues. According to Dr Yousaf, human body works when heart supplies blood to all body parts so any problem in its vessels directly affects the heart. “There are chemicals in cigarette that affect heart vessels.” This risk doubles with lack of physical activity and unhealthy diet.”

Doing household chores is alternative to exercise

According to Brig Dr Naseer Ahmad Samore, a cardiologist at AFIC Rawalpindi, says household chores cannot be alternative to exercise. “They just make an individual fatigued and exhausted.” Be active, play physical games and exercise. “Exercise helps control weight, reduces stress, cholesterol levels and blood pressure and helps keep heart diseases at bay,” says Brig Dr Naseer, before adding, “also, watch for your calorie intake and utilize whatever you eat.”

No doubt, life has become easier with the advent of technology. But our physical activity has reduced to a great extent. “We like being desk-bound. Our sedentary lifestyle is anti nature and so heart diseases are on the rise,” adds Dr Naeem Ahmad, a physiotherapist at Pakistan Hockey Federation, Karachi.

Guiding about the ways to manage your routine, Dr Naeem Ahmad says make it a routine to exercise at least ten to twenty minutes three times a day. These exercises range from brisk walk to aerobics. “Or even 1000 steps daily can help. Other simple exercises include pushups, crunches and sit ups. Brisk walking is the easiest and simplest among them.”

Heavy exercises needed for heart health

“Heart is both the strongest and the weakest part of the body. Starting heavy exercise suddenly may put unnecessary pressure on it,” says the physiotherapist. Therefore, it is crucial to adopt the right technique to start it. The right way is to warm up first. It acts as a notification for the body. Heart patients, however must consult with their cardiologist before starting any exercise.

Stress has nothing to do with heart

According to the experts, stress and depression also produce heart problems, both directly and indirectly. All organs are controlled by the nervous system. “In stress, anxiety or depression the brain secretes a stress-producing hormone called adrenaline that increases blood pressure and breathing rate,” says Aasia Mujtaba, a psychologist at Surgimand Hospital, Lahore.

“Adrenaline (stress hormone) affects heart functions directly by pressing arteries and veins. And this condition forces the heart to work more,” adds Dr Liaqat, the psychiatrist.

Furthermore, the coronary arteries also contract in stress, causing spasm. Recurrent spasms produce chest pain and a person becomes a heart patient gradually. “Sometimes stress causes fats present in the coronary artery to burst. This produces blood clotting and heart attack,” explains Dr Aurangzeb, an Intervention Cardiologist at Kulsum International Hospital, Islamabad.

 Adding further, he says stressful jobs even driving for that matter, are also one of the causes of heart problems. A recent study shows that most heart attacks occur on Monday mornings as it is a stressful day for many. “There is a lot of traffic on roads and workload at offices makes people anxious and stressed out, causing heart attack,” says Dr Aurangzeb. So avoid stress, depression and anxiety.

Did you know?

·         Heart pumps about six quarts of blood every minute and about 2000 gallons per day

·         heart is about size of 2 hands clasped together

·         heart beats 100,000 times each day

·         heart creates enough energy to drive a truck for 32 kms

·         heart can keep beating even separated from body as it has its own electrical system

·         heart beat mimics and changes to the tune you listen to

·         Heart pumps 1.5 million barrels of blood during lifetime, enough to fill 200 train tanks.

·         Our left lung is shorter to make room for our heart

·         Watching a funny movie increases our blood flow, a study




6 thoughts on “Heart

  1. Very useful…
    I especially liked the last line… 🙂

    Matters of heart are not casual or light… They must be considered and kept important.

    While there’s little evidence that stress affects heart, the strain does. The strain is the result of stress, and has effects all over us. A Hadees e Rasool (SAAW) says, “insaan kay dil mein aik tukrra hai…..jo theek ho jaaye tau saara jism theek ho jaata hai, aur kharaab ho jaaye to saara jism kharaab ho jaata hai…aur wo dil hai….” (translation of the meaning)..

    Myths busted through this writing were so much required….!
    Thank you for sharing this valuable piece…

    Liked by 1 person

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