Health And Wellness

5 Ways To Improve Heart Health

Published on 22 Mar 2022

It goes without saying that the heart is one of the most important parts of the body. It pumps oxygen and blood to all of your organs so that they can work properly. But when it doesn’t receive the proper care it needs, you may develop serious health problems and put yourself at risk of heart attack and stroke.

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Did you know that in 2020, more than a third of deaths in Singapore were because of cardiovascular disease?

There are many things you can do to lower the risk of coronary heart disease and other problems. A good 'recipe' to remember is to eat a heart-healthy diet, take part in physical activity, cut down on stress and avoid smoking altogether. Learn all about it in this article, or jump to the following sections:

How to check your heart health

Before diving into a lifestyle change, it helps to speak to a doctor to understand what your current heart health is like and recommended steps you should take. Your doctor may check your:

Heart rate and rhythm

Heart rate and rhythm are signs of the strength of your blood flow and blood pressure in different areas of your body. A doctor may measure this by taking your pulse. The normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.

A healthy person who exercises regularly may have a heart rate on the lower end of this range. However, a lower than normal heart rate (bradycardia) which results in a low blood pressure could cause symptoms like dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath because the organs are not getting enough oxygen.

On the other end, a resting heart rate over 100 beats per minute (tachycardia) may require medical evaluation. Occasionally, a person who is stressed or exercising can have a heartbeat over 100 beats per minute - in which case, this should not be a cause for concern.

Blood pressure

Blood pressure generally changes throughout the day. However, consistently having high blood pressure is a cause for concern. Factors such as age, low activity levels and diets high in salt, and obesity contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Learn more about how to manage high blood pressure.

Blood tests

Cholesterol levels may also rise with age, as does the risk of diabetes, both of which put one at greater risk of heart disease. This is why persons 40 years old and above are recommended to go for annual blood tests to check for high cholesterol and diabetes and be started on treatment early where necessary.

Signs of an unhealthy heart

The symptoms of heart disease are not always obvious. However, if you are at high risk of heart disease due to genetics or lifestyle, it is important to be educated about the symptoms so that you can take action to get treated or seek immediate medical attention when necessary.

Here are some symptoms of heart disease to watch out for. Take special note especially if you experience more than one symptom:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (angina) that worsens with exertion which may to extend to the arms
  • Shortness of breath with activities like walking up stairs
  • Fatigue during exercise or fainting spells
  • Palpitations or irregular heart beat
  • Dizziness when standing up after sitting for long periods

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, don't hesitate to seek medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing heart disease from becoming worse.

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A wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables are essential for a healthy diet.

Tips on how to improve heart health

Eat a healthy diet

While it is okay to indulge in the occasional fried chicken meal, limiting salty, sugary and high cholesterol food is key to healthy blood pressure. Some foods to avoid or eat in moderation are:

  • Butter, eggs and processed meat such as sausages and bacon that are high in salt and saturated fat
  • Canned soup, potato crisps, instant noodles which contain high amounts of sodium that lead to high blood pressure
  • Baked goods like cookies, donuts, muffins and cakes which contain high amounts of trans fat and sugar
  • Soda, bubble tea and other high-sugar drinks or food that lead to obesity

Develop a healthy eating plan by swapping out these unhealthy food choices for more high-fibre foods and protein that is rich in healthy fats, as they help to lower the risk of heart disease and inflammation. Some nutrient rich foods to try are:

  • Leafy greens, edamame, sweet potato
  • Walnuts, almonds, black beans, oatmeal, barley
  • Lean meats, salmon, tofu, tuna
  • Cherries, oranges

A healthy diet should comprise a balanced meal of carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables. So, make sure to incorporate the heart healthy foods listed above as much as possible.

Exercise regularly

Aerobic exercises, like brisk walking or running, improve circulation in the body and can lower your heart rate and blood pressure in the long run. This also helps you to maintain a healthy weight and improve your sense of wellbeing.

Plan for an exercise routine such as 30 minutes of brisk walking for 5 days a week, and muscle-strengthening exercises muscle-strengthening exercises for the whole body on two or more days of the week.

Stick to your plan by roping in family and friends for a senior-friendly workout with our Active Ageing fitness programmes, such as Circuit Training, Gym Tonic and Functional Strength Training, or find out more about full-body workouts for seniors.

Stop smoking

Smoking increases plaque buildup in the blood, which leads to clots forming inside veins and arteries. The chemicals in cigarettes also cause the cells lining blood vessels to become inflamed and swollen.

If you are a smoker, the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease is to quit smoking. Within two years of taking your last puff, the risk of heart attack drops by half, and within five years of quitting, smokers lower their risk of stroke to about that of a person who has never smoked.

Quitting may not be easy, but the health benefits are significant. Approach the friendly counsellors at QuitLine 1800 438 2000, or consider joining the I Quit Programme for more help.

Manage stress effectively

Many of us are familiar with stressful triggers, such as a conflict with loved ones, or a project deadline to meet. When stressed, your body releases a surge of hormones that increase your blood pressure, causing your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow.

Make sure to take time out of your day to relax and unwind, whether it's by going for a short walk after work or by taking 5 minutes to meditate and practice mindfulness when stress arises.

Go for regular heart check ups

Patients with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or diabetes should go for regular health screenings to treat these risk factors of heart disease. For those with existing heart disease, you should see your doctor regularly and monitor your health closely, as minor signs of heart disease can go undetected and worsen over time. With routine heart check-ups and screenings, you have the best chance of getting the right treatment when you need it.

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Take the right steps to a longer and healthier life!

Summary

By sticking to an exercise routine, eating well and going for regular health checkups, you are taking the right steps for a longer and healthier life. Pick up an exercise routine with the help of our expert fitness trainers, or schedule a health screening with our doctors at NTUC Health's Family Medicine Clinic.

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