In recent news, there has been an increase in Malaysian young adults with cardiovascular diseases. This is startling because preventative heart care is rarely the top-of-mind consideration for most Malaysian young and middle-aged adults as cardiovascular disease is usually perceived as an illness that affects the elderly.
Research has proved otherwise, showing that current lifestyle trends have lowered the age criteria to Malaysians in their thirties - they are more likely to have arteries which are similar to a seventy year old. Therefore the sad revelation is that Malaysians are now more prone to being struck with heart disease at a younger age.
Age is just a number when it comes to cardiovascular diseases
Linda Chan, 57, is one of those who had the same perception. She used to work long hours in her younger years and did not pay much attention to her health. With those previous habits coupled with regular seafood feasts with her family, it is now difficult for her to manage her heart health. In an attempt to balance it out, she tries to be more vigilant with her diet when she can, opting for steamed dishes and drinking milk with added plant sterols to lower her low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
“I’ve had friends who passed away at the age of 37 from heart health issues, just gone in their sleep,” she recalled. “Don’t think that heart disease or fatalities only happen to people at my age, cholesterol and heart problems don’t develop overnight and I would definitely urge my daughter to look into ways of managing her heart health as early on as possible.”
The 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey revealed that nearly 20 million Malaysians above the age of 18 years are at risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which may in turn lead to the development of cardiovascular disease. One out of two Malaysians are suffering from high cholesterol levels.
Cardiovascular disease range from a heart attack, narrowing of arteries and abnormal heart rhythms to breaking down of the heart valve or heart muscle and degeneration of blood vessels, amongst others.
Managing your heart health in 3 simple steps
Heart health can be managed by three key factors - physical activity, heart health check-ups and a balanced diet.
The American Heart Association suggests a 30 minute combination of moderate and vigorous activity every day, five times a week. Walking is also encouraged to improve heart health as it is a form of physical activity that does not overstrain the heart.
It is vital that heart check-ups are not skipped, even if you feel like you do not have heart issues. Numbers regarding blood pressure, blood glucose, weight, heart rate and cholesterol levels should be asked for in detail. These numbers will provide a benchmark for upcoming check-ups.
A balanced diet is also vital for maintaining good heart health. In each meal, half of your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruits. Milk with added plant sterols should also be consumed to block the absorption of LDL into the bloodstream.
According to Heart UK, the Cholesterol Charity, plant sterols are extremely effective in lowering cholesterol levels, reducing it to 10% when taken at optimal doses and as part of a low saturated fat diet, over 3 weeks.
They are considered to be the most effective single food that can lower cholesterol as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Plant sterols can be found in small amounts in many grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. However you may have to eat very large amounts of these items to have an effect on your cholesterol, so an easier alternative is to opt for oat drinks instead of coffee and replace unhealthy snacks with fruits, nuts and seeds.