By Sevith Rao, Founder of Indian Heart Association
February is the month of love. But its also National Heart Awareness Month. If you’re a 20 or 30 something-year-old, you may be thinking that this topic isn’t relevant to you, that heart health is something to be mindful of down the road. But heart disease does not just impact the elderly. When it impacts South Asians, it tends to do so at an earlier age. Half of all heart attacks in South Asian men occur under the age of 50 and a quarter occur under the age of 40!
Another misconception is that heart disease mostly afflicts South Asian men. However, a South Asian woman’s lifetime risk of dying from heart disease is eight times greater than that of breast cancer.
As South Asians, we are more prone to heart disease. Public health estimates indicate that India will account for approximately 60% of the world’s heart disease burden, despite having less than 20% of the world’s population. Heart disease is the leading cause of mortality and a silent epidemic among South Asians.
But as South Asians, are we all doomed? No! We are at risk due to a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Genetically, we are at higher risk of diabetes and abnormal lipid profile. South Asian millennial in particular are at risk due to a lifestyle factors such as smoking, increased sedentary lifestyle, abnormal sleep cycles among professionals, and diets laden with fast food and processed carbohydrates.
Having said all this though, this does not mean you are destined for heart problems. There are precautionary images you can take now to get yourself on a heart healthy path.
1. Education is the most important step. By reading this article you have already made the first step. Please visit the Indian Heart Association and join our Facebook page for resources you can benefit from yourself and the heart health of your parents and loved ones.
2. Try cooking at home one night this week instead of going out. You don’t need to be an expert to cook heart healthy South Asian meals with decreased processed carbohydrates and avoidance of unhealthy fats. You can download a free heart healthy South Asian cookbook with simple, delicious recipes here.
3. Grab a friend and go for an evening or morning walk. Physical activity for 30 minutes daily at least five days per week is tending to your heart health.
4. Its never too early to speak to your physician. Schedule your annual checkup. Your physician will be able to discuss your personal risk for cardiovascular disease with you, order labs and other testing if needed, and manage your risk factors.
5. Manage your stress and rejuvenate yourself. Daily deep breathing, prayer, or meditation can improve your well-being. Try to sleep at a regular time tonight and get 8 hours of restful sleep.
The Indian Heart Association (IHA) is a cardiac health NGO founded by Baylor College of Medicine Student Sevith Rao and his brother Dr. Sishir Rao, Interventional Radiology Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. The major goal of our organization is to raise awareness about preventative cardiovascular health through a combination of online outreach and grassroots advocacy.