Give your heart some lovin’—eight tips for a heart-healthy lifestyle

Yesterday, March 4, Filipinos woke up to the news that veteran actress Jaclyn Jose has passed away. 

Hours later, her daughter Andi Eigenmann confirmed the sad news, saying that her mother died due to myocardial infarction or heart attack.

The 60-year-old Jose’s case is shocking—but it is far from rare. 

Heartbreaking statistics

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), or diseases of the heart and blood vessels, are responsible for a third of death in the Philippines. Photo above from Header Photo By Ilya Gogo from Pexels.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), or diseases of the heart and blood vessels, are responsible for a third of deaths in the Philippines. 

Moreover, as per the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), CVDs are part of a larger group of noncommunicable diseases, which account for 72 percent of deaths in the country in 2021.

In 2023, data from the PSA published in the Oxford Journal of Public Health revealed the top three causes of death in the country from January to December 2022. 

Ischaemic heart diseases were the main cause of death during this period, accounting for 114,557 cases or 18.4 percent of all fatalities.

Also called coronary heart diseases (CHD), these are heart problems caused by narrowed heart (coronary) arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle.

Cerebral vascular disorders are at third, with 63,281 documented cases or 10.2 percent. While deaths from hypertensive illnesses placed fifth with a recorded 35,641 cases or 5.7 percent of all cases.

In addition, contrary to misconceptions, heart diseases are not just common among men. According to The Medical City, cardiovascular disease is the main killer of older people of both sexes almost everywhere in the world.

In 2020, the WHO said that CVDs are the world’s leading killer, causing one in every three deaths. 

The statistics are heartbreaking. We shouldn’t be scared, though, as there are things we can do to keep our heart healthy.

Eat a heart-healthy diet

A healthy heart plate

According to the WHO, a heart-healthy diet consists of a combination of different foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. 

We love crispy bacon and juicy sausages, but it is advised to reduce the consumption of salty meats (your go-to almusal like tocino and hotdogs are also included!), as well as salty food such as your mom’s favorite tuyo and danggit

Pinoys love their food flavorful. But instead of using toyo, bagoong, patis or even ketchup to season and marinate your food, use calamansi juice and vinegar. 

Limit the intake of processed, canned, and fast food—no matter how much you love Spam and Chicken Joy especially on stressful days.

Reduce the consumption of sweet snacks such as donuts and cookies, and go for more fresh fruits and veggies. 

The Mayo Clinic also suggests avoiding saturated fat, which is found in red meat, full-fat dairy products, palm oil, and coconut oil.

Trans fat is also a huge no-no and this can be found in some fried fast food, chips, and baked goods.

When thirsty, avoid giving in to the temptation of an ice-cold glass of Coke or powdered iced tea. Reach out for a glass of water instead. 

Keep your weight in check

Monitoring your weight through your BMI can help you avoid being overweight or obese, factors that increase the risk of heart diseases. Photo from Getty Images

Both the WHO and the Mayo Clinic warn against being overweight — especially around the middle of the body—as it raises the risk of heart disease. 

Those extra pounds can lead to conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes that raise the chances of getting heart diseases.

A good way to determine if you have an ideal body weight (or not) is through your body mass index (BMI). This uses height and weight to find out if a person needs to shed some pounds. 

A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight, which in general, is linked with higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Get your tape measure! Waist circumference can also be a useful tool to measure how much belly fat you have.

Your risk of heart disease is higher if your waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 cm) for men and 35 inches (88.9 cm) for women.

Try to reduce 500 kilocalories in your daily diet, which could help you achieve an average weight loss of about half to almost one kilo a week.

Even a small weight loss can be good for you!

Get moving!

The goal is at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily.
Photo by Dolphyb for Wikimedia Commons

Physical activity contributes to improved blood pressure and levels of cholesterol and other blood lipids, as well as weight control. 

If you’re too busy and your work has you spending inordinate amounts of time seated in front of your laptop, keep in mind that some physical activity is better than none at all.

People who lead a sedentary lifestyle such as myself can start with small amounts of physical activity and gradually increase duration, frequency, and intensity. 

The goal is at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, such as brisk walking, climbing stairs, gardening, or doing household chores which can result in mild increase of heart rate spread throughout the week.

If you haven’t been active for a while, the Mayo Clinic suggests even shorter bouts of activity. Just five or 10 minutes of moving can help—take the stairs or treat your furbaby to a short walk. 

Don’t smoke or use tobacco

One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

One of the best things you can do for your heart, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to stop smoking.

Even if you’re not a smoker, be careful still, as exposure to second-hand smoke is harmful to your heart.

Chemicals in tobacco can damage the heart and blood vessels.

Cigarette smoke, meanwhile, lowers the oxygen in the blood, raising blood pressure and heart rate which then causes the heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen to the body and brain.

There’s good news if you’re a smoker: The risk of heart disease starts to drop in as little as a day after quitting!

Even better news, after a year of no smoking, the risk of heart disease drops to about half that of a smoker. 

No matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

Minimize alcohol consumption

Drinking in moderation can be good for your heart, too.

Drinking alcohol has been linked to more than 200 disease and injury conditions, including cardiovascular diseases. 

So if you choose to drink alcohol, drink only in moderation. According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, this means one drink or less in a day for women and two drinks or less in a day for men.  

Get quality sleep

For adults, seven to nine hours of sleep each night is good for the heart and brain. 
Photo by iStock/People Images

The American Heart Association recommends seven to nine hours of sleep each night for good heart and brain health. 

I know this is quite difficult for many of us adults, given our workload, not to mention our endless household chores. 

But we have to try and get enough rest. A good way to do this is to set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

Manage stress

Managing stress can do wonders for your heart’s health. Photo from Shutterstock

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can play a role in higher blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease.

If your stress level becomes overwhelming, you may want to consider getting a checkup. 

Ongoing stress may be linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. These conditions are also tied to heart disease risk factors like higher blood pressure and less blood flow to the heart. 

Sometimes, people cope with stress in unhealthy ways like overeating, drinking, or smoking.

Opt for healthier ways to manage stress instead. Exercise more, do relaxation and mindfulness activities, you can even try yoga and meditation.

Undergo regular health screening tests

An important way to maintain a healthy heart is for your blood pressure and blood sugar to be checked regularly by a health worker. Photo by Siri Stafford for Getty Images

The WHO says that an important way to maintain a healthy heart is for your blood pressure and blood sugar to be checked regularly by a health worker. 

If you don’t get checked for these conditions, there’s a good chance you won’t know you already have them.

Some people, for instance, do not exhibit symptoms even if they already have high blood pressure.

It is also important to talk to your health worker if you have behavioral risks like an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, smoking, or alcoholism, so they can help you plan lifestyle changes to get your heart health back on track. 

If you are diagnosed with hypertension or diabetes, don’t forget to take your medicines regularly and follow your doctor’s advice.

Associate Editor

The new lifestyle.