How to live a healthier life in time for Heart Week
Many people view Dubai as a place of extremes, and it’s something that also seems to apply to health. We’re either a city of fitness freaks, charging up and down the beach at the ever-popular 6am bootcamps, or languidly shovelling fried goods into our faces at one of the many, many drive-thrus. Even if you can’t give up the junk, research suggests we need to find a balance, now more than ever, and with Heart Week running from Sunday May 6 to Saturday 12, it’s the perfect time to address how you’re treating your body.
An alarming one in four deaths in the UAE is currently attributed to cardiovascular diseases, making it the country’s leading cause of death, while the World Health Organisation places ischaemic heart disease at the top of its list of the main causes of death around the world. Don’t become another statistic – take the advice of our experts and change your daily routine for the better.
Dubai-based nutritionist Dita Osman (050 558 4744).
Arabic Eat this: Hummus. Not this: Samousek. ‘The fibre in chickpeas and sesame seed oil (tahina) can help to lower blood pressure, and regular intake of chickpeas and other legumes can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.’ Try local favourite Wafi Gourmet for a delicious, lemony hummus. Dhs27 per portion. Open daily 11am-1am. Various locations, including The Dubai Mall (04 330 8297).
Italian Eat this: Penne arrabiata. Not this: Fettuccini alfredo. ‘White sauces are loaded with butter, cream and flour, adding pounds to your belly and fatty deposits to your arteries. Tomato-based sauces contain lycopene and many other carotenoids that act as antioxidants, helping your body to fight free radicals.’ Try Jamie’s Italian for a delicious arrabiata. Dhs79 per portion. Open Sat-Wed noon-11pm, Thu-Fri noon-midnight. Dubai Festival City (04 232 9969).
Indian Eat this: Curries with a veg or lentil base. Not this: Curries with coconut milk/cream. ‘Lentils and vegetables provide fibre and plenty of phytochemicals. Turmeric and other curry spices provide anti-inflammatory benefits and can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia, obesity and certain forms of arthritis.’ Try Ravi Restaurant for a superb yellow lentil dahl with a hint of chilli. Dhs3 (small portion), Dhs6 (large). Open daily 5am-3am. Satwa (04 331 5353).
Manage stress ‘The key to heart health is inflammation reduction, and reducing stress levels helps. Too much relaxation is not the key, though – people in Dubai are always worried about their next vacation. Try to exercise (personal training, yoga classes, budokon) to relieve stress and you can be sure you’re doing something with positive consequences. Ultimately, stress levels can be controlled by how you perceive the causes of stress around you. Feeling good about how you move, how you look and how you perform (at the gym, on the beach) will improve your health and slash stress levels, leading to a leaner body, healthier joints and an improved metabolism.’
Walk – it’s that easy ‘Walking is simple and effective. But you’re not walking enough. According to the Journal of Physical Activity and Health 2008, the numbers of steps in the table below are ideal for weight control (if calories are controlled), and in my opinion it is an amazing adjunct to your fitness routine. It may not give you a head-turning body, but it sure beats sitting at home and thinking about joining a gym next year to get that head-turning body.’ Depending on your stride, 10,000 steps is roughly equal to about 8km a day; if your strides are smaller, it will be less.
Get out of your chair ‘Sitting is the biggest physical problem-causing activity in which my clients engage. Dr James Levine of the Mayo Clinic in the US says researchers have linked sitting for prolonged periods with a number of health problems and premature death from cardiovascular disease. It ruins posture, disrupts natural breathing and, no matter how much exercise you get, kills you earlier. Get up and stretch every 15 to 20 minutes, which is about the time it takes for the tissues to neurally cement the chair pattern as your default setting.’
Get some structure ‘A study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that those who exercised more and ate less fat were significantly more likely to lose weight. It also found a link between joining a weight-loss programme and greater reported weight loss, which may highlight the importance of structure in a weight-loss regime. Hiring a professional to help you lose weight works, and joining a fitness programme will help to set you ahead of the curve.’
Dr Wael Abdulrahman Almahmeed of Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, former president of the Emirates Cardiac Society.
Give up tobacco ‘Stop smoking. If you give up smoking, the risk of a heart attack drops tremendously, and it halves the risk of you having another. All types of smoking, particularly shisha, have become very common in this part of the world. There are a number of smoking cessation centres in Dubai, as well as places that can give you advice – most major hospitals now have counselling and medication available, and it’s covered by most health insurance policies.’
Slim down ‘If you’re overweight or obese, you should try and lose weight – 25 per cent of UAE nationals have diabetes and the majority of that can be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle or high body weight. Losing weight involves two things: eating healthily and doing more exercise. That reduces your risk of developing diabetes, and exercise also reduces your blood pressure – it will have a small effect on lowering your cholesterol.’
Have a check-up and eat less salt ‘Go to your GP for an annual check-up. There are no symptoms for hypertension, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If your blood pressure is above 140/90, you should have it treated. Exercise helps, as does eating fruit, particularly fruit high in potassium such as watermelon and bananas, and following a low-salt diet. It’s important to cut the amount of salt in your diet, as this can help to lower blood pressure. It’s the same with cholesterol. Get your numbers checked, because high cholesterol can cause heart attacks, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.’ UAE mobile phone group du last month launched a 24-hour physician hotline for its mobile customers, who can subscribe to the service for by texting MD to 9167. Alternatively, for more info on staying healthy in the city, contact Dubai Health Authority on 800 342.
Avoid… fried food, and aim to limit your intake of meat. Wild cold-water fish such as salmon and sardines are better choices.
Eat more… healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil, and remember half of each plate you eat should contain vegetables.
Fact Heart disease is the main killer in mid- and high-income countries, while in low-income countries it’s respiratory infections.
Fact Cardiovascular problems such as heart disease account for 22 per cent of deaths in the United Arab Emirates.