Heart diseases are one of the leading causes of death around the world and sometimes, without even giving any warning signs, these heart conditions have proved to be very critical, which is why it has become very important to get your heart checked on a regular basis. A healthy heart is central to overall good health and following a heart-friendly lifestyle will prevent heart diseases while encompassing a well-balanced diet and taking care of external factors also contributes in keeping the heart healthy.

Did you know you can have a heart attack and not even get to know? Yes, that’s right! It can be a silent heart attack which has no symptoms, minimal symptoms or even unrecognized symptoms and many people do not even get to know about it until weeks or months as the symptoms are minimal and one will not take them seriously at all as you may feel like you have flu or sore muscle in the chest while other symptoms could be jaw pain, tiredness, indigestion, chest pain, shortness of breath, cold sweats, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting and heartburn.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Tilak Suvarna, Senior Interventional Cardiologist at Mumbai’s Asian Heart Institute, listed 6 lifestyle choices that we need to let go, not just for a healthy heart but overall physical health and well-being in the long run. These include:

1. Unhealthy snacking habits – Our poor food choices generate more ill health than physical inactivity, alcohol, and smoking combined. Saturated fats and trans fats- the two types of bad fats that have been identified as potentially harmful to the heart are consumed in large quantities through our diets today. A single packet of potato chips can meet half the daily requirement of fats in a person. If you are fond of bhujia with tea, you get high doses of salt and trans fats along with a high number of calories. Fries are laden with fats. By eating a large serving, one exceeds the safe limit for trans-fats. Most of the oils in which Indian snacks are fried contain a minimum of 13-19 percent saturated fats.

A much better option would be avoiding the deep-fried foods and choosing healthy snacks such as roasted chana, fruits, multi-grain biscuits, dry fruits etc. As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish — at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds. Select fat-free and low-fat dairy products and lean meats and poultry (skinless). Limit sugar-sweetened beverages. Buy your fresh groceries from local producers and avoid highly processed foods and beverages.

2. Excessive salt consumption – Excessive salt in the diet contributes to high blood pressure which is a major cause of heart disease, heart attack and congestive heart failure. Eating too much salt causes the body to keep or retain too much water, worsening the fluid build-up associated with heart failure.

Adults should eat less than 6 grams of salt each day – that’s about one teaspoon. This includes the salt that is contained within readymade foods like bread, as well as the salt you add during cooking and at the table. Children should eat less salt than adults, according to their age. Check the nutritional information on food labels and try to pick low-salt options and ingredients. Flavour your food with pepper, herbs, garlic, spices or lemon juice instead.

3. Lack of physical activity – Lack of physical activity comes with great risks including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other heart related problems. The simplest, positive change you can make to effectively improve your overall health is to start walking. A 30–40-minute brisk walk daily is flexible and boasts high success rates because people can stick with it.

To improve overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). Environmental pollution is the number one killer in the world today. Try to walk or pedal to work at least once a week. Choose public transport. Collective participation by all will go a long way in reducing the pollution on our planet.

4. Overindulging in alcohol – Excess alcohol is linked to a greater risk of high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, and heart failure. In addition, the extra calories can lead to weight gain, a threat to heart health. No amount of alcohol is good or prescribed for your health.

5. Smoking and chewing tobacco – Smoking increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which includes coronary heart disease and stroke. Smoking thus damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a build-up of fatty material (atheroma) which narrows the artery. This can cause angina, a heart attack or a stroke. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood. This means your heart has to pump harder to supply the body with the oxygen it needs. It’s bad for passive smokers too.

6. Excessive stress – Stress can indirectly affect your heart. It is possible that stress could increase your blood pressure, make you overeat, exercise less and smoke more and thus increase your chance of having a heart problem. Managing stress makes sense for your overall health. While it is impossible to live your life completely stress-free, it is possible to make some changes in one’s lifestyle, to reduce harmful effects of stress on one’s heart. Take out time to relax, engage yourself in a hobby or a recreational fun activity, meditation and breathing exercises that can be good stress busters.