Today marks World Heart Day 2021.

Created by the World Heart Federation, World Heart Day was created to inform people globally about cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease and stroke.

CVD is the world’s leading cause of death claiming 18.6 million lives each year. The day aims to drive action to educate people that by controlling risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity, at least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided.

CVD is the umbrella term for all types of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, including coronary heart disease (clogged arteries), which can cause heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is often referred to simply as “heart disease,” although it’s not the only type of heart disease. Another term for it is coronary artery disease.

Just over seven and a half million people live with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK. Image: Online Marketing.

CHD occurs when plaque (a combination of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood) builds up in your arteries.

The plaque reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood getting to your heart, which can cause chest pain (also called angina). Plaque can also lead to blood clots, which block blood flow and are the most common cause of a heart attack.

There are around 7.6 million people living with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK. An ageing and growing population and improved survival rates from heart and circulatory events could see these numbers rise still further.

CHD is one of the UK’s leading causes of death and the most common cause of premature death. It is responsible for around 64,000 deaths in the UK each year with an average of 175 people each day or one death around every eight minutes.

In the UK, one in eight men and one in 15 women die from CHD, killing twice as many women in the UK as breast cancer.

First generation South Asian people are up to fifty percent more at risk of CHD than the wider white European population. Even within the South Asian group, there are differences in risk. Those at highest risk are the Bangladeshi population, followed by Pakistanis, Indians, and Sri Lankans – but even Sri Lankans may be at higher risk than white Caucasians.

Keeping blood levels at a normal level is important for reducing risk. Image: Mufid Majnun.

Regina Giblin, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “UK studies have shown that the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) is greater if you have a South Asian background, higher prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure are likely to contribute to this.

“While lifestyle factors may play a role in a person’s increased risk of developing diabetes or coronary heart disease, genetics, and someone’s ethnicity also plays a big part. There are however always steps you can take to reduce your risk.”

Nurse Giblin suggests four main ways of reducing risk through simple lifestyle choices. These are:

Eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet will help you to control your weight, blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Most parts of a traditional South Asian diet are healthy, such as pulses like lentils and beans, vegetables, and fish.

However, adding too much salt and saturated fat like ghee, butter, and coconut oil can make your diet less healthy. To make meals healthier, try swapping paneer for tofu, swapping paratha for chapati or pita bread. Instead of using salt to add flavour, try adding herbs, spices, ginger, chilli, or ginger juice instead.

Move more

The importance of regular exercise cannot be overstated. Keeping active reduces the risk of having a heart attack or stroke and lowers the chance of dying early. Being physically active helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces your risk of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

To help lower the risk of CHD, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking or cycling) each week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as running).

You don’t have to go to a gym or be sporty. It’s about moving more in your day-to-day life. Activities like housework, gardening, group dancing, and walking will all improve your health. The BHF’s ‘My Step Challenge’ and ‘MyCycle’ are great ways to gently increase your daily activity and you can set your own targets as you go.

Other factors

We all know smoking is bad and this is also the case with chewing tobacco, it is harmful to our hearts and increases risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases.

Many people also don’t realise that Shisha is often tobacco-based.  Even if you use tobacco-free shisha, the smoke still produces harmful levels of toxins. This can be either just as bad for you or even more harmful than smoke from tobacco-based shisha.

Other factors, like how you deal with stress levels, drinking too much alcohol or living in an area with bad air quality, can also affect your heart health. Managing stress levels and controlling diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure levels can all help prevent developing a future heart and circulatory condition.

Take action

It is also important to know about family history of conditions such as heart attack and stroke. If concerned about heart health, the BHF healthy living pages will provide lots of information to help make healthy changes. The BHF also recommend visiting your local GP for advice and if over 40 take advantage of free NHS health checks.

For more information and support, you can visit the BHF’s website here.

Feature image: Jesse Orrico.