Heart disease is no longer a novel illnessTo many, heart disease evokes an image of a pale, lifeless face lying in bed, as seen in the novel “The Shower” by Hwang Sun-won. In truth, the heart disease that threatens Korean lives today is no longer some vague invention.
The heart disease described in fiction mainly concerns valve disease or congenital deformities from birth. Damage of the valves results in an inability to pump blood into the heart, leading to possible death. But nowadays, the most common heart disease involves coronary arteries. Arterial disease can cause a patient to suddenly clutch his heart upon suffering immense chest pains and can lead to sudden, unexpected death. Many coronary artery patients are overweight, middle-aged men who smoke.
The Westernization of Korea’s lifestyle is one key reason for the sudden surge in coronary artery-related disease, which occurs when the arteries pumping blood into the heart are clogged. In the United States, heart disease is already the top killer. While more people die of heart disease than cancer in the United States, in Korea, the number of heart disease-related deaths account for only one-third the number of those from cancer.
For American men, the death rate from heart disease is 230 per 100,000 ― 10 times higher than in Korea. Every year in the United States, more than half a million people die of heart disease. It’s worth noting that this pattern is beginning to exhibit itself in Korea as well. Recently, the World Health Organization reported that Korea, along with certain developing nations, was witnessing an increase in heart disease-related deaths. Although heart disease stands third in terms of overall deaths, behind cancer and stroke, its frequency is growing. The primary reason for the upsurge is the prevalence of high calorie fast food meals and a lack of exercise epitomized by the remote control and the elevator. A proportional increase in the overweight population and number of heart patients is testament to this fact.
Eating a lot and exercising little causes excess nutrients to build up in the arteries, clogging them. If accumulated fat clogs the coronary arteries, oxygen and nutrients cannot be delivered to the heart. In a modern man’s lifestyle, stress and smoking raise one’s blood pressure and heart beat, further distressing the heart.
The risk of heart disease can be reduced up to 60 percent with improved lifestyle habits. The most critical and positive action one can take is to quit smoking. Cigarette smoke is not just hazardous to the lungs, it also hurts the heart muscle. Tobacco smoke can cause blood vessels to contract and also cause arteriosclerosis. Checking one’s blood pressure regularly is another way to prevent heart disease. By treating high blood pressure, coronary heart disease risk can be reduced by 21 percent. High blood pressure causes the heart to suffer more when pumping blood.
Third, one should reduce cholesterol intake by exercising regularly and eating fewer fatty foods.
FIVE STEPS TO MAKING YOUR HEART STRONG
Here are five maxims to live by to prevent heart disease.
1. Quit smoking.
2. Get regular blood pressure and diabetes check-ups.
3. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
4. Exercise regularly.
5. Take a small dose of aspirin (talk to your doctor first).
by Hong Hye-gul