Ask The Experts

Heart-healthy habits reduce risk of heart attack

Dr Derek Yong, cardiologist at Restore Heart Centre at Mount Alvernia Hospital.
Dr Derek Yong, cardiologist at Restore Heart Centre at Mount Alvernia Hospital. PHOTO: MOUNT ALVERNIA HOSPITAL

Q I am on a mission to restore my health as I have been smoking and drinking heavily for about 10 years.

A full body check-up 11/2 years ago showed that I had a very high triglyceride level.

The doctor prescribed medicine for four months. I then decided on some major lifestyle changes.

I now don't drink more than once in three weeks and only red wine. I smoke only one or two cigarettes a week. And I am 6kg to 7kg lighter than 18 months before.

How can I reduce my triglyceride level?

To reduce your level of "bad" cholesterol and protect your heart, stick to a prudent diet, exercise regularly and lose weight appropriately.

A It is great that you have decided to embark on a healthy lifestyle.

Heart-healthy habits include not smoking, eating healthily, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.

Smoking increases the risk of heart attack tremendously. It also increases the tendency for blood to clot easily, damages the inner lining of the coronary arteries, increases blood pressure and heart rate and reduces stamina.

A diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, fibre-rich whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean meat, poultry and fish is generally considered a heart-healthy diet.

Avoid or limit your intake of salt, sugars and "bad" fats (trans fats and saturated fats). "Bad" fats should be avoided in favour of polyunsaturated fats, particularly those found in fish (Omega 3).

Rather than losing weight per se, staying at a healthy weight range actually reduces the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Being overweight increases the chances of developing other risk factors for heart attack, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and also raises blood cholesterol and decreases "good" HDL cholesterol.

Physical inactivity or not exercising is associated with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and, subsequently, heart attack.

Moderate-intensity exercise for 150 minutes a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise a week is highly recommended.

Brisk walking for just 20 minutes a day will significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

You may want to avoid food and drinks with a lot of sugar and carbohydrates, such as sweets, soda, fruit juice and white bread. And also avoid red meat, butter, cheese and fried foods.

Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day if you are a man, and one drink or less if you are a woman.

Other than the above measures to help reduce your triglyceride levels, medicines have been prescribed to you by your doctor. Medicines that lower triglyceride levels include statins, fenofibrate, nicotinic acid and fish oil.

Your doctor may have tested you for the levels of different types of cholesterol, while doing the initial tests for triglycerides.

The levels of your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) and HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) are measured during the tests.

If you have too much "bad" cholesterol, it will build up in the inner walls of the heart arteries and, together with other substances, form plaques that can narrow or block the arteries, increasing the risk for heart attack.

To reduce your level of "bad" cholesterol and protect your heart, stick to a prudent diet, exercise regularly and lose weight appropriately. Check with the doctor on your control of cholesterol levels.

The key is to stop smoking altogether. Besides lowering your risk of heart disease, quitting smoking reduces your chances of stroke, lung disease, cancer, kidney failure and infection.

Dr Derek Yong

Cardiologist at Restore Heart Centre at Mount Alvernia Hospital

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'Heart-healthy habits reduce risk of heart attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe