The covid-19 pandemic is a nightmare, but if there’s been a silver lining, then it’s the fact that the pandemic has forced people to take care of their health. Stuck indoors, people have turned to at-home yoga, follow-along dance sessions on TV; they have bought bicycles till stores ran out of stock, gone running in virtual races, and so much more. And despite growing awareness of a healthy lifestyle, there are many health issues that continue to be a problem across the country.
In 2017, the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Health Index revealed that older millennials (age 34-36) have higher prevalence rates for nearly all of the top 10 health conditions than did Generation X members when they were in the same age range (age 34-36). One of the big health worries is the risk of heart diseases.
According to Dr Divya Marina Fernandes, Interventional Cardiologist, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru, many people have become more sedentary since last year. This is almost directly a result of the changes in lifestyles brought about by the pandemic. Increased levels of stress has led to more people taking up smoking as well. All of this has a negative impact on our heart health.
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Is your heart healthy?
“You need to listen to your body to understand if your heart is healthy or not. If you feel extreme tiredness, chest pain, or if you could run a kilometer before, or climb two flights of stairs, but now get breathless while doing it, then you need to look at your heart health. But you can do basic checks at home. During the pandemic, a lot of people also invested in pulse oxymeters and blood pressure apparatus for home. This can help you check the BP, pulse rate and oxygen saturation without the need for going to a hospital,” says Fernandes.
For reference, an average person’s blood pressure should be in the range of 140/90 while the resting heart rate would be in the range of 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). If your heart rate is often outside this range, then you should consult your doctor.
According to Dr TS Kler, Chairman, Fortis Heart & Vascular Institute, Gurugram & Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, there are some cardiac diseases which manifest at an early age. “These can be usually picked up by ECG or another test called the 24hrs Holter test which is like electrical monitoring of cardiac activities for 24 to 72 hrs. You can consult your cardiologist or a cardiac electrophysiologist who specialises in electrical issues of heart,” explains Kler.
Do you exercise your heart?
People who are quite active—whether it is because they exercise or due to the nature of their work—push their heart rates up to strenuous levels quite often. As a result, their resting heart rate comes down to below 60 bpm. “Lower heart rate implies better endurance in athletes. The better the endurance training, heart rate is lower. This helps the heart relax better and fill with more blood so that it can pump more blood to all the organs. This means, more nutrition for all organs,” explains Fernandes.
During exercise, however, your heart rate is sure to increase, especially for cardio exercises such as running, cycling, skipping or dancing. A general formula for your recommended maximum heart rate while exercising is to first subtract your age from 220. Now measure 85% of the value that you get after subtraction. For example, if you are 30 years old, you should exercise only till a max heart rate of 161.5 bpm (220-30= 190. 85% of 190=161.5). Anything above this is outside the anaerobic phase and that means you are not working out effectively.
“Sometimes over conditioning can lead to mal-adaptation of cardiac functions and an athlete can have a disease called athletes heart. Usually it is self limiting and the heart goes back to normal when these activities are left for certain period,” adds Kler.
How can you make your heart healthier?
Simple steps in our daily lives can make the heart healthier. Eating balanced, nutritious meals; reducing the intake of processed carbohydratess and sweets; around 30 minutes of daily exercise; reducing the amount of salt in your diet; and preserving your mental health are all things which can help you lead a healthier life.
You could also turn to yoga and practice specific asanas that helps to increase blood flow to the heart. For example, a simple stretching routine you can add to your daily life can be done with the help of a simple dupatta or a yoga belt. First, take the dupatta, and fix the middle part of the belt below your scapula. Take either ends of the belt and bring it over your shoulders (like one would drape a dupatta). Criss-cross the ends of the belt which are now hanging behind you and then tie them under your bust. It can resemble how wearing a backpack looks. “This simple but highly effective movement helps to keep your spine neutral, and helps in blood flow as well as breathing,” says Shammi Gupta, founder of Mumbai-based Shammi's Yogalaya.
To lead a fit and healthy life, you need to start taking care of your heart. A little care now—in terms of nutrition, exercise and even regulated breathing—will go a long way in preventing heart diseases.