COVID has left a lasting impact on our hearts. And not a good one unfor-tunately. This world hearts day it’s time to bring the focus back squarely on our hearts.
This pandemic has left our hearts weak in more ways than one. The stress and misery and loss this deadly infection unleashed loaded and weighed down our hearts, the economic uncertainties caused a lot of distress, and even worse is the news that the after effects of the covid infection are still lurking in many people.
Studies are suggesting that many COVID-19 survivors experience some type of heart damage, even if they didn't have underlying heart disease or a genetic propensity and even those who weren’t very sick when they were infected.
The COVID infection, we now know, affects the inner surfaces of veins and arteries, which causes blood vessel inflammation, damage to very small vessels and blood clots in many people, affecting the heart and multiple other parts of the body as this compromises blood flow in the body.
Many of the sudden cardiac arrests that happened later are now being attributed to this weakening of the system.
Who Is at a Higher Risk?
That's the thing, it can be difficult to spot who is at risk, or to find out whose heart is having trouble from those who are recovering from the virus.
For example, whether your lingering lethargy is because of your weak, tired lungs, or due to an underlying weakness in the heart muscle is often difficult to discern.
That is why it is important to turn the focus on our hearts even more urgently and the World Heart Day on 29 September is a good time to do this. This year's theme, 'Creating Heart-Healthy Environments' is bang on the mark and can be an effective tool to bring about a difference.
Prevention is Key
Firstly, regular screenings to detect cardiovascular damage should become a routine part of follow-up care for COVID-19.
Secondly extra weight definitely does not help your heart, joints and the whole body. Excess weight increases the workload on the heart and it also increases blood pressure - all these have a detrimental effect on the heart.
Think about the human body as a machine with your heart as a pump that circulates the blood in the body.
Work towards your ideal body weight. Monitor your body mass index and keep it below 23.
We Indians are more prone to abdominal fat – so ensure that this is checked through diet control and regular exercise.
Fourthly you can decrease risk and help heal the heart by exercising regularly.
Regular exercise does not mean that one needs to be a marathoner. You can net the benefits even by walking for 30-45 minutes five times a week.
Finally, the diet needs to be overhauled with a clear focus on heart healthy nutrition.
Have a diet low in saturated fat, devoid of trans fats, and higher in mon-ounsaturated fats. Put special emphasis on consumption of omega 3’s (fish and sea foods).
Vegetarians can get their dosage from flaxseeds, soya and mustard oils.
Eat a diet low in simple-carbohydrates - restrict refined flours prepara-tions, for example, biscuits, breads, naans, kulchas, cakes, pastries, mathris, other confectionaries, vegetable patty etc – all common parts of Indian diets.
Cut down on sugar as we tend to eat too many sweets owing to our sweet tooth and the festivals round the year.
Eat a diet high in dietary fibre content. Increase the amount of vegetable and fruits that you consume.
Cut down on salt intake as hypertension is fast becoming an epidemic in India. Steer clear from papads, salted butter, readymade soup packets etc.
Keep the intake of salt to about 4-5 gm per day. Indians are at present, on an average, eating almost double – about 8-10 gm.
Avoid vanaspati (trans fatty acids), decrease ghee, oil, and butter in your diet.
If you are a non-vegetarian, try to eat more fish. Eat lean meats. Eat chicken without the skin (also, don’t fry them).
Eat 20-40 gm of unsalted, non fried nuts or seeds everyday. These pro-mote healthy lipid levels in the blood.
Eat home cooked food as fresh food is richer in nutrients, in antioxi-dants, vitamins and micronutrients when compared to preserved (and packaged) food.
Plus, daily cooking allows for variety, ensures that sea-sonal fresh fruits and vegetable get consumed, and we also end up eat-ing less salt and less preservatives.
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant, and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of The Dont Diet Plan: A no-nonsense guide to weight loss, Fix it with Food, Ultimate Grandmother Hacks, and Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People)