A healthy lifestyle for a healthy heart – world heart day | Western Cape Government



A healthy lifestyle for a healthy heart – world heart day

29 September 2020

World Heart Health Day is celebrated annually on the 29th of September. About 80% of all heart diseases are preventable so taking a few moments to learn about maintaining a healthy heart may help you to stay healthy.

Although an abundance of information on living healthily is available, by using the acronym HEART, you can focus on the most important lifestyle factors for maintaining a healthy heart:

H – Harmful habits

E – Eating healthily

A – Active Lifestyle

R – Risk factors

T – Take it easy



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.

Smoking almost triples the risk of heart disease. It narrows blood vessels and expands blood clots, causing the cardiovascular equivalent of a traffic jam on the highway to your heart and brain.

Smoking causes heart and blood vessel disease by Increasing blood pressure, increasing blood clotting and increasing carbon monoxide levels and reducing oxygen levels.

Passive smoking: Non-smokers who breathe second-hand smoke suffer many of the diseases of active smoking. Second-hand smoke contains five times more carbon monoxide and six times more nicotine than first-hand smoking because the filter on a cigarette offers some protection for the smoker.

Is there a ‘safe’ level of smoking?
There is no safe level of smoking, and there is no such thing as a safe cigarette, even those labelled mild and low nicotine.


Living healthily, including regular exercise and a balanced diet, go a long way to reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

Guidelines for a healthy diet:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet including a variety of foods
  • Eat smaller, more regular meals
  • Make starchy foods, especially those rich in fibre and wholegrains, part of most 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), softtub 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


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.

The heart of someone who exercises regularly will beat 45–50 times per minute. The heart of someone who does not exercise regularly will beat 70–75 times per minute. This means 36 000 extra beats per day and 13 million extra beats every year for unhealthy hearts.

What are the benefits of regular exercise?

  • Reduces risk of heart disease and stroke Improves ‘good’ cholesterol levels
  • Helps lower high blood pressure Helps reduce and control body weight
  • Helps control blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • Helps to manage stress and releases tension Delays/prevents chronic illnesses/diseases associated with aging
  • Reduces risk of bowel and breast cancer
  • Reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis
  • Smokers who exercise are twice as successful in their attempts to quit


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.

Reducing your risk: If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk by successfully losing weight and keeping it off.


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 Cardio vascular disease!

Here are some tips to help you to cope with stress better:

  • Write down your troubles and share them with trusted friends or family
  • Practice good time management, and plan ahead of time
  • Accept that you can’t control everything, and relax about the things you cannot change
  • Prioritise! Only do the most important things, and don’t stress about the things that don’t really matter
  • Learn to say “no” if your to-do list is too long
  • Give up on the bad habits – too much alcohol, smoking or caffeine can actually increase your stress levels
  • Exercise! Go for a walk or pound it out in the gym
  • Get enough sleep, which for most people is about seven to eight hours a night
  • Take time to do something you enjoy.

For more information on living a healthy lifestyle, please visit your local clinic to book an appointment with a dietitian. You can also visit our website for more information at www.westerncape.gov.za or visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s website at www.heartfoundation.co.za.

Media Enquiries: 

Leensie (Streicher) Lötter
Communications Officer
Health: West Coast District & Paarl Hospital
Western Cape Government
Mobile: 072 224 7376
E-mail: maria.streicher@westerncape.gov.za
Website: www.westerncape.gov.za