Malaysians are dying of a broken heart – or medically speaking, heart disease. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about one in three deaths in Malaysia is caused by cardiovascular disease, our country’s No. 1 killer.
Its proportional mortality at 35% is far ahead of the deaths caused by cancer (16%), injury (9%), chronic respiratory disease (4%) and diabetes (3%).
Among the types of cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease (CAD) and cerebrovascular disease (CVA) are the deadliest to Malaysians, as reported in the National Burden Of Disease study. Malaysians are getting these diseases at a younger age compared with our neighbours and some Western nations.
What makes cardiovascular disease so dangerous?
When plaque – which consists of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances – accumulates in the artery, it causes a narrowing of the artery. This chokes the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs. As such, those afflicted may suffer a heart attack, stroke, even death.
The good news is that escaping this silent killer is not difficult or expensive. We just need to get off our chairs and move about more. WHO has found that physical inactivity is the biggest risk factor of cardiovascular disease for men and women.
In other words, the risks of heart issues, cholesterol, high blood pressure and other debilitating conditions can be dramatically reduced if we can make time for regular exercise.
Those who prefer a less strenuous workout can take a walk or go for a swim, while the physically fit can organise fun games like futsal or badminton with their buddies.
For busy urbanites, exercising daily may be a tall order. After a long day of sitting in meetings, chasing deadlines, taking care of kids and completing household chores, many people do not have much time or energy left for physical activity at the end of the day.
It is understandable that they just want to kick back on the couch and unwind with their favourite TV show. Even so, to prevent cardiovascular disease, it is still vital to squeeze in short exercises every other day.
This alone may not be enough, but it can be combined with another easy method to bolster our heart health – eating more fish, according to cardiologist Dr Johan Rizwal Ismail.
“Not just any fish, mind you, but oily fish rich with Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, herring, anchovies and tuna,” he says.
“Don’t be alarmed by the word ‘fatty’. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are a good type of fat that helps our heart by preventing inflammation in our blood vessels and the rest of our body.”
At high doses, Omega-3 fatty acids lower the risk of abnormal heart rhythms and reduces the level of blood fats called triglycerides. It can also delay the build-up of plaque inside blood vessels.
“Studies have shown that people who eat a lot of fish record a lower risk of cardiovascular disease,” explains Dr Johan.
“As our bodies are unable to produce Omega-3 fatty acids, we have to consume it through our meals. The American Heart Association recommends that people eat fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week, in order to gain enough of the good fat to protect our heart.”
This may be easier said than done for many Malaysians. Eating the recommended two portions of oily fish like salmon and tuna a week may be a financial burden for some families, as these fishes tend to be more expensive in our country.
Moreover, not everyone likes the taste of fish while others may be put off by the bones. But that does not mean they cannot load up on Omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil supplements made from pure and safe raw materials are good alternatives in supporting normal functions of a healthy body. These supplements are not only easily found in pharmacies, but can be conveniently consumed on the go.
There are very few excuses for us to neglect our heart. There is, however, a huge reason for us to do all we can to prevent cardiovascular disease, so that we get to enjoy many more healthy years with our loved ones.
Say no to broken hearts and say yes to making the best of our lives.