February is traditionally the month for love – that is, for expressing your love to your partner on Valentine’s Day. But there is also another heart-shaped theme taking place in February in countries around the world that aims to remind us of just how important our cardiovascular health is.
That’s right, it’s Heart Month. An idea instigated in response to the stark fact that cardiovascular disease (CVD), more commonly known as heart disease, is the world’s number one killer.
The risk of CVD increases with age and, indeed, heart attacks and other symptoms of the disease are generally associated with the older population. But statistics are showing increasingly that this is not always the case. An alarming number of heart disease cases now occur in younger people.
Heart disease is mistakenly assumed to be a threat mainly to men. This is not the case. America’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that heart disease affects the same number of women as men each year. And female victims are also getting younger.
Why are some young people now at higher risk of heart disease?
- Diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol are a particular problem here in the UAE, as is the associated condition of obesity. These conditions are being found increasingly in young people and research points to a familiar list of risk factors: Smoking, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.
- Smoking is prevalent in the UAE. 2015 WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, stated that 12.5% of the young population (aged between 13 and 15) in the UAE and 20.5% of the adult population are smokers. Smoking causes considerable damage to blood vessels, leading to the build-up of plaque, which narrows and hardens the arteries, causing hypertension and restricting the flow of blood to the brain and heart, causing stroke and heart attack respectively.
- The evidence against smoking is damning, but not far behind comes a poor diet. Poor diet takes its toll on the heart as well as the waistline. Refined sugar passes into the bloodstream much faster than natural sugars, causing spikes in blood sugar levels, which in time can impair glucose tolerance and ultimately lead to insulin resistance, resulting in Type 2 diabetes, a condition that has been connected to CVD.
- In addition to the things we consume, scientists are now looking more and more at the way we spend our time – specifically, the amount of time we spend sitting down. This offers another clue as to the growing incidence of CVD in young people. Television and computers, for both work and play, have led to a more sedentary lifestyle and there is increasing evidence that this is harmful to heart health.
What you can do to protect your young heart?
There is a simple formula to protect your heart. Stop smoking, eat a healthy diet and take regular exercise. But if it really was that simple, wouldn’t we all be doing it?
We need better education about how to lead a healthy lifestyle and more help to follow these basic principles. It is extra important that we address these issues in the young so that the behaviors that lead to poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise are not allowed to set in. First and foremost, be aware of the food you eat and the exercise you take and make Heart Month the time when you show more love to your own heart.