The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the healthcare profession, national healthcare systems and our individual responsibilities – for our own health and for the vulnerable in society.
WE are living in unprecedented times, a period of high stress and worry, meaning it is more important than ever to take care of our own wellbeing and in particular our hearts.
Every hour, the NHS spends a staggering £1 million treating heart and circulatory diseases, according to the British Heart Foundation.
And as nobody knows what course the pandemic will take in the future, it’s vital we do what we can, and not just today – World Health Day (September 29) – but as a life plan.
The World Health Federation has stressed that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death on the planet.
It has many causes: from smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, to air pollution, and rare and neglected conditions such as Chagas Disease and cardiac amyloidosis.
“In the time of Covid-19, CVD patients are faced with a double-edged threat. Not only are they more at risk of developing severe forms of the virus, but they may also be afraid to seek ongoing care for their hearts.”
So this year, on World Heart Day, the federation aims to spread awareness about taking care of our hearts and to ‘use heart to beat cardiovascular disease’, which can only happen when we make changes in our lifestyle and adopt healthy eating habits among other things.
The #UseHeart campaign is about using: your head, your influence and your compassion.
The first is “to understand what it takes to live a heart healthy life and to act on that knowledge, changing behaviour for a better quality of life now and in the future”.
Using ‘your influence’ is about setting an example to others, says the federation.
“As a healthcare professional to help your patients make positive changes for their heart health. As an employer to invest in the heart health of your employees. And as a government to implement policies and initiatives that will lead to better societal heart health, such as sugar taxes, smoking bans and reducing air pollution.”
Finally, using ‘your compassion’ is to look beyond the self and act in ways that support the most vulnerable in society; those with underlying heart-related conditions that may put them at greater risk in the time of Covid-19.
So, how do we make better choices?
We can all look after our hearts and help to prevent CVD by eating a healthy diet, saying no to tobacco, sticking to safe alcohol guidelines and getting plenty of exercise, recommends the World Health Federation.
Here’s five heart-healthy habits to learn, compiled by the British Heart Foundation.
1. Get your five-a-day
Make sure you have at least five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
Fitting in those portions of fruit and vegetables might not be as tricky as you think.
Jazz up rice with vegetables, add fruit to your cereal and swap your mid-morning snack for dried fruit and make your own vegetable crisps or chips with oven baked beetroot, sweet potato or parsnip.
And it’s not just fruit and vegetables, beans and lentils count too, and are a great source of carbohydrate and protein while being packed with essential vitamins and minerals.
Standard potatoes don’t count as one of your 5-a-day. As an alternative pie topping, or to combine with potato, use mashed swede, sweet potato, butternut squash or carrot.
For meals like spaghetti bolognese, chilli, curry or pasta bakes, use tinned tomatoes (or tomato passata) instead of ready-made sauces.
2. Cut the saturated fat
Swap saturated fats like butter, lard and ghee for unsaturated fats like rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils and spreads. Remove visible fat and skin from meat and poultry, and use low-fat milk and dairy products.
Some foods we imagine are healthy can be shockingly full of fat. These include: muffins, yoghurt coated raisins, coleslaw, egg yolk, salami and cereal bars.
3. Ditch the salt
Avoid adding salt to your food, but make sure you check food labels too. Three-quarters of the salt we eat is already in our food and there can be quite a variation even in basic items like bread and cereals.
Opt for products which are labelled low-salt or low-sodium, limit takeaways and in restaurants, ask for sauces served on the side.
For every type of salt there are probably 100 different other flavours, so refresh your palate by experimenting with new tastes including herbs, spices, black pepper, or citrus rind and juices.
4. Adopt a Mediterranean-style diet
Studies show that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce your risk of a heart attack, says BHF. A Mediterranean diet typically means one that is rich in fruit and vegetables, oily fish, such as sardines, and wholegrain cereals, with modest amounts of meat and low-fat dairy.
One of the better-known aspects is the use of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil instead of saturated fats such as butter.
A Mediterranean diet means more fruit and salad and having meat-free days and using fish, beans and pulses instead.
5. Watch your portions
Eating healthy, balanced diet should help keep your weight under control, but it’s important to keep an eye on your portion sizes too. Use a smaller plate or adjust the proportions so that half of your plate is fruit or veg.
In addition to a healthy outlook, diet and exercise, BHF also recommends that if you have an underlying health condition, such as heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity, “don’t let Covid-19 stop you attending your regular check-ups. And never avoid calling the emergency services if you need to”.
To find out ore about World Heart Day, visit: https://www.world-heart-federation.org/world-heart-day/world-heart-day-2020/
You can find more information and tips for a healthy heart at https://www.bhf.org.uk/
Thank you for reading this article “World Heart Day 2020 – taking care of our hearts is more important than ever”.
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