In the 80s and 90s, heart disease was thought to be disease of elderly people. However in recent times, we have seen more and more young people die of heart disease than before.
Available data from the world health organization (WHO) states that, 31% of all deaths worldwide are due to cardiovascular disease1.
Studies done in Sub- Saharan Africa countries (Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania) showed that there is a rising prevalence of heart disease and related health conditions, namely diabetes, hypertension and overweight/obesity2.
We all know someone who has died suddenly or is suffering from complications of hypertension and or heart disease. Many of these individuals are adult Nigerians in their prime who should be providing for their families and contributing to nation building, but are cut down prematurely due to death or disability from heart disease and related complications like stroke and kidney disease.
Why is this so?
Apart from genetic predisposition to risk factors for heart disease, this rising trend is due to mainly lifestyle factors.
Let’s look at a day in the life of an average 30-50 year old adult living in Lagos:
- Wakes up at 4am or earlier
- Commutes 1-2 hours to work 5 times a week
- Skips breakfast
- Resumes work at 7-8am
- Sits at a desk from 8am till 5pm or later
- Eats fast food for lunch
- Commutes 1-3 hours back home
- Eats a late dinner
- Finishes work projects
- Sleeps at 12 midnight on the average
When he/she decides they want to “relax”:
- Consume large amounts of alcohol and salt laden fatty food
- Smokes cigarettes or inhales other peoples smoke
- Takes energy drinks and other mood and performance enhancing substances and drugs
When they go on “holiday”:
- “Shop till you drop”
- Go out by 9 am, return by night. Every day of the “holiday”
- Always answering emails and work related phone calls
- Return from holiday more stressed than when they left
No time to exercise, all meals are salty, greasy, no fruits and vegetables, no proper unwinding/relaxation time, no time for health check (even though the company is paying for it). This goes on 365 days of the year.
What are the risk factors for heart disease we have identified in this average Lagosian we just described?
- Lack of sleep: an average individual needs 6-8hours of sleep every night. Our typical person gets only about 4 hours of sleep
- Sedentary lifestyle: this person drives everywhere, sits down all day, minimal walking/movement
- Lack of exercise: no time set aside for proper cardiovascular exercise. To be healthy and prevent heart disease, it is recommended that we exercise 30-45 minutes, most days of the week.
- Consumption of salty, greasy processed food: as they are so busy, there is no time for food preparation at home, most adults consume food that is commercially made, full of salt, unhealthy fat and high in sugar.
- Increased stress levels and work related anxiety, leading to increased cortisol and adrenaline levels.
- Lack of relaxation or time off work.
- Cigarette smoking, alcohol and drug consumption.
Due to all of the above, there is an increase in blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight gain.
Cigarette smoke, alcohol and mood/performance enhancing substances are directly toxic to the heart and blood vessels.
Cortisol and adrenaline are hormones the body produces to help cope with stress. These hormones raise blood pressure, encourage weight gain, increase heart rate, all predisposing to heart disease. Lack of relaxation means these hormone levels are constantly elevated.
Exercise helps to reduce blood pressure, helps to condition the heart, lungs and blood vessels, and helps to release hormones that cause your blood vessels to relax.
Now ask yourself, which of these behaviors are you guilty of? How do you think you can change?