A Canadian volunteer with the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, Dr. Jason Yung first visted Bhutan in 2008. Since then he has visited the country three times treating complex cardiac patients and being invloved in upgrading skills at the echo lab in the hospital. Business Bhutan report Lucky Wangmo talks to him about seven steps to a healthy heart.
1. Whatever you do, do not smoke
Not smoking cigarettes is the single most important choice you can make to maintain both cardiac and overall health. Smoking cigarettes is directly linked to increased rates of heart attacks, emphysema, bronchitis, and cancer. Bhutan is very fortunate that the purchase of cigarettes is outlawed in the country. Despite this, I still have seen numerous Bhutanese smoking around Thimphu. They are directly harming themselves by taking up this foolish and dangerous habit.
2. Maintain healthy weight
Although Bhutan does not suffer from obesity epidemic that is affecting North America where I am from, the changing habits of Bhutan’s youth is likely to lead to an increasing number of Bhutanese being overweight. Extra weigh increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis. Weight gain is simple; you eat more calories than you burn off at the end of the day. The key to preventing being overweight is to avoid junk food and being mindful of the portions you are eating at mealtime. Exercising regularly also helps to control body weight.
3. Exercise regularly
Exercise plays a very important role in maintaining a healthy weight. Beyond that it offers the benefit of reducing your blood pressure, improving your cholesterol, and reducing the chances of developing bone loss (osteoporosis). Although many rural Bhutanese are very active, working in the fields, those in the urban areas may not be getting enough activity to maintain their health. Try and exercise for 30 to 60 minutes on most days in order to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
4. Control alcohol intake
Alcohol has a prominent role in Bhutanese culture and in low doses may actually help your heart by improving cholesterol. However, in higher doses it can be toxic to your heart and lead to abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation or even cause severe heart damage and heart failure. It is also a clear cause of liver cirrhosis. Current recommendations vary but, in general, men should limit their alcohol intake to 2-3 drinks per day and women 1-2 drinks per day. One drink is any alcoholic beverage that contains 10g of alcohol (one 355 ml bottle of beer, one 150 ml glass of wine, or 50 ml shot of spirits).
5. Watch blood pressure and treat if necessary
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called the “silent killer.” It damages your organs over many years before its consequences become apparent. High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney failure and is preventable and treatable. The most basic way to prevent high blood pressure is to avoid salt in your diet. Packaged foods are often very high in salt (sodium) and should be avoided. Regular exercise and also improve your blood pressure.
6. Check cholesterol and treat if suggested
It is now well recognized that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for the development of heart attacks and stroke. It is also a well known fact that if you are at risk for a heart attack, by lowering your cholesterol with a medication called a statin, you can lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
7. Listen to doctors
Doctors are highly trained professionals who have your wellbeing at the forefront of their work. Based on risks and benefits, doctors prescribe medications, order tests, and book follow-up appointments to actively treat disease but, more importantly, to prevent them from occurring in the first place. If you have questions about the suggestions you should discuss it with your doctor. If your doctor prescribes a medication, books a test, or books a follow-up appointment please do everything you can to follow his or her directions. For instance, in Bhutan rheumatic heart disease is a leading cause of heart failure. This often requires penicillin injections monthly for up to ten years. If you’re doctor has prescribed this, it is very important to have this done.