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Eight expert tips to protect your heart. BY DAWN CHEN

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Eight expert tips to protect your heart. BY DAWN CHEN 
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These lifestyle tweaks will help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

1 Laugh more

Keep your heart healthy by looking on the bright side. A study by the University of Maryland Medical Center found that patients who had heart disease were less likely to recognise humour, and displayed more anger and hostility than their peers.

2 Catch those Z’s

According to research published in the European Heart Journal, a review of 15 medical studies involving nearly 475,000 people found than those who clocked less than six hours of sleep a night had a 48 per cent increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease, and a 15 per cent greater risk of developing or dying from stroke. Dr Kenneth Ng, cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, adds that this could be because of higher blood pressure and inflammation following a lack of sleep. He recommends getting at least six to eight hours of shuteye every night.

3 Stay active

Dr Goh Ping Ping, medical director at the Singapore Heart Foundation, recommends getting 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. It’s also important to aim for a mixture of aerobic and strength-training workouts. Dr Ng says that moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, dancing, tennis and gardening, among others. He adds that exercise helps to improve blood vessel function and reduce inflammation. This helps to lower blood pressure, improve glucose metabolism and prevent cholesterol build-up in your arteries.

4 Eat well 

"A heart-healthy diet is low in sugar, salt and saturated fats,” says Dr Goh. She also advocates avoiding trans fats totally, and eating more lean meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables.

5 Quit puffing

According to Dr Ng: “Smoking causes an increase in blood pressure and inflammatory markers, and decreases the endothelial function of the blood vessels. All these will lead to more cholesterol deposition in the arteries.” But if you puff, it’s not too late to turn your health around. He adds that a person who stops smoking for 10 years brings his or her cardiovascular risk down to the level of a non-smoker.

6 Know your risks

If you have an immediate family member who suffered from heart disease prematurely (below the age of 50 for men, and 60 for women), your risk of getting cardiovascular illnesses increases by two to three times, says Dr Ng. Schedule routine check-ups with your doctor to measure your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, so that you know where you stand and can make lifestyle adjustments if necessary. Dr Goh recommends yearly screening for those above 40.

7 Stress less

Maintain good work-life balance by spending time with loved ones or doing hobbies you enjoy. These relaxing activities can keep your ticker strong and healthy as well, says Dr Goh, as doing so lowers stress levels.

8 Keep your heart rate low

“Your heart rate is determined by a combination of your genetic makeup, physical fitness and emotional state,” says Dr Goh. “Most healthy people have heart rates of 60 to 80 beats per minute.” You can lower yours through regular exercise, relaxation and the avoidance of stress and caffeine. And while it’s normal for your heart rate to shoot up when you’re anxious or doing vigorous exercises, a persistently high one could point towards an underlying medical condition.