A healthy lifestyle for a healthy heart | Western Cape Government


A healthy lifestyle for a healthy heart

21 February 2022

About 80% of all heart diseases that presents before the age of 65 can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle. Whilst celebrating Healthy Lifestyle Awareness day, Western Cape Government Health focusses on heart health and how adjusting our lifestyle and eating habits, we can restart our heart health and have a new lease on life.

Western Cape Government Health offers services on all platforms to prevent, treat and manage heart conditions. “As Western Cape Government Health, we have taken it upon ourselves not just to deliver healthcare services but to educate communities about wellness,” explains Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister for Health. “We want to conceptually move away from an all-consuming curative paradigm of treating illness and disease to one of prevention, promotion and wellness.”

Although we don’t have control over some of the risk factors associated with heart diseases such as family history, sex or age — there are some key preventative steps we can take to ensure we avoid heart problems in the future, says Mbombo, “Our Healthcare 2030 strategy speak to building resilient communities and a road to wellness. We can do all we can as the department. Ultimately, we all have to take responsibility for our own heart’s health and follow the guidelines to a healthy lifestyle.”

Living healthy can also assist in treating many types of heart conditions including heart failure, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Let’s look at the factors that can help to prevent and control heart disease:


Lack of regular physical activity is a risk factor for many diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cancers, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD). In comparison to those who exercise regularly, inactive people double their risk of suffering a heart attack and have a higher risk of dying immediately after such an attack. The good news is that regular exercise can give you the most profound long-term health benefits.

How much physical activity is enough? If you’re inactive, doing anything is better than nothing! Studies show that those who have a low fitness level are much more likely to die early than people who have achieved even a moderate level of fitness. If you want to exceed a moderate level of fitness, you need to exercise at least five times a week for 30 to 60 minutes.

Healthy eating habits

“Eating healthy is a very effective way of preventing heart conditions and it’s a relatively easy adjustment in your lifestyle to try if you are concerned about your heart health,” explains Stephne van Schalkwyk, dietician for Matzikama Sub-district in the West Coast. “Small changes to your diet can achieve great results and can assist with overcoming other factors contributing to heart disease, like stress and obesity.”

The Heart and stroke foundation of South Africa have the following guidelines for a healthy diet:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet including a variety of foods
  • Eat smaller, more regular meals
  • Include at least five servings of vegetables and fruit every day
  • Include fish as part of your diet at least twice a week. Good examples are: snoek, sardines, tuna, pilchards, mackerel and salmon
  • Limit the intake of red meat to two to three times per week. Regularly include legumes (beans, peas, lentils and soya) as alternatives to meat
  • Eat fats sparingly, limiting ‘bad’ fats, such as butter or fatty meat, and including more ‘good’ fats in your diet, such as vegetable oils (e.g. sunflower, canola or olive oil), soft tub margarines, avocados, nuts, peanut butter and seeds
  • Limit intake of foods high in cholesterol like organ meats, calamari, shrimps and prawns
  • Limit intake of refined and sugary foods and beverages
  • Have at least two servings of low fat or fat free milk/dairy products every day
  • Use salt sparingly. Intake should be limited to 1 teaspoon a day (5g) – remember that processed foods, e.g. processed meats like viennas and polony, salty snacks such as chips and take-aways also contain a lot of hidden salt
  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation
  • Drink lots of water every day
  • Make starchy foods, especially those rich in fibre and wholegrains, part of most meals

Excessive alcohol intake

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol increases blood pressure and causes increased levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood). It may also contribute to the development of obesity, diabetes, liver disease and sudden cardiac death.

If you are consuming alcohol, consumption should be limited to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. One drink is equal to 125ml wine, 340ml beer or 25ml of spirits or liqueur.


Smoking almost triples the risk of heart disease. It narrows blood vessels and expands blood clots. Smoking also leads to Increasing blood pressure and increasing carbon monoxide levels and reducing oxygen levels. No amount of smoking is safe for hearth health and the benefits of quitting is not only for your heart’s health, but also prevents cancer, including lung and throat cancer.


Stress has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease. While we can’t always escape stress, managing stress effectively is important for a healthy lifestyle. Often, we reach for unhealthy foods and snacks, skip our exercise, drink alcohol excessively and turn to smoking to help us deal with stress – all major risk factors for CVD! Fortunately, the benefits of lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, healthy diet and giving up bad habits like smoking and high alcohol intake, is not only good practices for a healthy heart but also reduces stress.


Being overweight or obese puts you at higher risk for health problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, gallstones and degenerative joint disease. Obesity is caused mainly by taking in more calories (energy) in the diet than are used up in exercise and daily activities. The westernised lifestyle promotes overweight and obese states. We are less active and eat more unhealthy foods, especially processed foods and take-outs. If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk by successfully losing weight and keeping it off.

Look out for these signs and symptoms of a heart attack:

Not all people experience the same symptoms when they suffer a heart attack. Sudden chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack. In some case, mostly women or people with diabetes, a heart attack can happen without any chest pain. Chest pain can also be caused by several other conditions that affect the stomach, chest wall, muscles or lungs. Ambulance staff or a doctor can do the necessary tests to find out if chest pain is caused by a heart attack. Below are the common symptoms of a heart attack. You may experience only one or several of these symptoms during a heart attack. If you are in doubt, get checked out!

Symptoms of a heart attack:

  • An overwhelming sense of anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling light headed and dizzy
  • Abdominal pain, feeling sick, or vomiting
  • The pain can spread to your shoulders, arms, neck or jaw Sweating
  • Chest pain that could feel like pressure. tightness, discomfort or squeezing

Where do I obtain more information regarding hearth health and general wellness?

WoW! is a Healthy Lifestyles partnership initiative of the Western Cape Government and its valued partners. WoW! aims to enable people to make Healthy Lifestyle choices throughout our life course - from planning Pregnancy and Birth to Youth, Adult and Senior Years. Choices we make today about how we live (LIVE!), the types of food we eat and drink (EAT!), and how often we do physical activities (PLAY!), affect our future health. 

Visit Western Cape Government Health’s WOW! Webpage at www.westerncape.gov.za/wow or contact the heart and stroke foundation at 021 447 6268, or call our Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (0860 1 43278).