Home is where heart is. Many of us diligently spend several hours a week dedicated towards cleaning our homes, wiping down the windows, scrubbing the floors, and giving the tiles a good polishing, so much so that we can sometimes see our own faces in them. But if we spend so much time keeping our homes clean, shouldn’t we do the same for our hearts? They do, after all, beat at the centre of all we do, and it is safe to say that without their rhythmic, steady pumping, none of us would be alive for very long.
This World Heart Day, doctors in Oman have asked people to show the utmost care and love to the most important muscle in their body. While it certainly may not be the biggest, it is definitely the most vital, a fact Dr Sathish Veluswamy, a laparoscopic surgeon at Burjeel Hospital, can certainly relate to.
“These days, people spend a lot of time at the gym because they want to build big muscles, but they are forgetting the most important muscle of all, the heart,” he told T weekly. “The heart needs regular exercise, otherwise it will not remain healthy. You don’t need to do a lot of strenuous exercise for the heart, all you need to do is walk for some half an hour to 45 minutes a day and that is good enough for your heart.”
Walking, of course, may sound simple, but nothing that’s worth doing is ever easy. Easy access to harm, though, some of it involuntarily or unknowingly self-inflicted, is increasingly common today, just as common as heart attacks are getting to be – a frightening and chilling state of affairs of the alarmingly poor health some people are in at the moment.
“I had to perform emergency surgery on a 20-year-old who came to us with an emergency heart attack,” revealed Dr Veluswamy. “As a doctor, you never want to see such things because it paints a very sad picture of the kind of health our young people are in these days. I see now that young people are increasingly developing more and more heart problems. While people used to first develop heart problems at 45, now they are contracting them at 35.”
“One of the main reasons for this is the massive changes our lifestyles have undergone,” he added. “Marketing companies make restaurant food look very cool and attractive, and so young people are increasingly drawn to that. Once they taste this food, they’re hooked onto it and think it is not nice to eat healthy food and fruits, when in fact it is the opposite that is true. Junk food has absolutely no nutritional value and will cause so many problems in the long-run.”
These marketing campaigns and promotional offers restaurants bring in are only a front to bring in more customers through the door.
“To the restaurants, food is a business,” admitted Dr Veluswamy. “You are their customer, and all they want you for is to get money and business. They do not care about your health and if you think they do, then you are sorely mistaken. When you eat outside food, fat from this food gets stored in the cells of the body. What energy is needed is stored as glycogen in the liver and the rest is stored in the form of fat.”
“When this fat comes into the heart, that is when heart problems develop because the supply of blood is cut off and the body cannot function,” he added. “That is when you have to admit yourself to a medical facility immediately.”
Modern medicine may have plenty of ways to keep you alive, said the doctor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are particularly well.
“These days, you can perform a bypass in some two hours,” he said. “Some medical hospitals do some 12 bypass surgeries a day, but just because such a solution exists, does not mean you have to put yourself through it. Once you have a heart attack, there are so many things you cannot do and your life will never be the same again. I advise people to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, drink a lot of water and stay off junk food.”
Dr Veluswamy added, “At home, I wake up at 5.30 in the morning and exercise, so that my day starts off on the right note. I do not allow my children a lot of screen time, because it is very important for them to go out and play. If you say it is too hot to go out and play in the daytime, I understand, but once the sun goes down in the evening, send your children to play, and you also go and get some exercise.”
Having spent 16 years in the Sultanate, Dr Benny Panakkal of Badr Al Sama’a Hospital had an equally icy tale to share.
“People who live in the Middle East, on an average, develop heart problems 10 years earlier than people in the western world do,” he revealed, expressing how much of a cause for concern this was. “I cannot stress just how dangerous this is for people because they don’t seem to be worried about what could happen. In the western world, the culture of eating junk food is slowly declining, but here in the Middle East, people are still not able to give it up.”
“Obviously, stress plays a very important role here,” added Dr Panakkal. “But lifestyle diseases are the number one cause of heart attacks, and more and more people are coming to get checked and they’ve found that they do have heart troubles, which wasn’t the case earlier, but that was also because back then, the awareness wasn’t there, so while the number of cases has been on the rise, it is also partially because more and more people are becoming aware and that is a good thing.”
He was also only too eager to remove the cloud of doubt that connected heart trouble to heavy smoking, one of the most dangerous causes of heart disorders.
“For a long time, there was a perception or a wrongly-held belief that smoking does not lead to heart problems, but it only leads to problems with your lungs,” said Dr Panakkal, hoping to clear the air on this matter once and for all. “Smoking is the biggest cause of heart attacks in people. I have had to give emergency care to a 24-year-old man who had heart troubles because of smoking. He didn’t have diabetes, he didn’t eat poorly, he wasn’t overweight, but his consumption of cigarettes had risen to two packs a day, and the price he paid for it was the harm he was causing to his heart.”
But what tipped the scales towards heart attacks was eating habits, with an increasing number of people suffering from obesity-related troubles.
“The number of young and obese people at the moment is simply too many,” he admitted. “People today say they have no time to cook for themselves or eat healthy food, but if something is important to you, then you will find the time for it. Today, people just order food from restaurants and this causes a lot of health problems, because restaurants are all about style and business, they use a lot of oil in their cooking and this causes so many problems.”
“This is particularly true in the case of fast food restaurants because they sell a lot of fried foods and use ingredients that are not good,” added Dr Panakkal. “If you want to live long, then please be careful and eat things in moderation. That is the way to lead a healthy life.” —[email protected]