by Dr. Martin Makau
KEEPING YOUR HEART HEALTHY
Hypertension (or high blood pressure), heart attack, atherosclerosis, cholesterol – these are terms you may have heard affecting people we may know or even ourselves. At the center of them all, there is one vital organ – the heart, which pumps blood to the rest of the body.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition in which the pressure of blood in the blood vessels rises above the physiological normal, leading to progressive damage of body organs. Most sensitive of these organs to the devastating effects of hypertension are the heart itself, the kidneys and the brain. Cases of hypertension have been on the rise in Africa; nearly half of the adult population is estimated to be hypertensive
Like any other organ, the heart needs blood to function. “Heart attack” is experienced when blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off, affecting the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body (want to learn more? Watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_PYnWVoUzM.
A heart attack happens when the coronary artery – the vessel supplying blood to the heart muscle itself – gets blocked, usually from a buildup of cholesterol . Symptoms of a coronary artery blockage can vary from diffculty breathing or chest pain to loss of consciousness and, in the worst case, may result in death. The good news is that much of our risk of hypertension, heart attack, and even stroke, is preventable, and manageable. Heart health, more commonly referred to by doctors as cardiovascular health, refers to the health status of our heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular).
What can we do to improve our heart health?
Lifestyle modifications are critical to improve heart health and prevention of cardiovascular diseases for all of us. These modifications include weight loss, dietary changes, exercise, stopping smoking, and moderating alcohol intake.
What we eat affects how our body functions – a diet high in cholesterol means you have more cholesterol in your system, and this can block your blood vessels, for example. A good diet must be sustainable in the long run, otherwise it can be hard to stick to. Make sure your diet includes healthy foods that you enjoy eating and are easy to access
STOP SMOKING (It can be hard, but it can be lifesaving!)
MODERATE YOUR ALCOHOL [11,12]
Drinking alcohol on a single occasion can see a temporary increase in blood pressure, and regular, heavy drinking can cause hypertension and can damage the heart muscle resulting in a weaker heart. This makes it harder for the blood to circulate around the body. Alcohol also increases levels of LDL (considered”bad”) cholesterol, increasing the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
Eliminating alcohol entirely, or at least reducing alcohol consumption to recommended limits reduces these cardiovascular risks. The recommended limit is one unit of alcohol per sitting for women and two units per sitting for men. Note that this is not an average but the maximum limit per sitting.
What does this mean in practical terms? One unit of alcohol is approximately equal to:
- A single measure of spirits (ABV 37.5%); OR
- 1.2-pint average-strength (4%) lager; OR
- 87.5 ml of average-strength (12%) wine
REGULAR HEALTH CHECK UPS 
- Blood Pressure
- Lipid profile (cholesterol)
- Blood sugar
- Body weight and body mass index