KARACHI: A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools, reads a Spanish proverb which aptly presents the state of many Pakistanis who criminally neglect their physical well-being.
Interestingly, experts blame it mostly on the Pakistani lifestyle. Gorging greasy food, chain smoking, drinking alcohol, not exercising and stewing in stress because of political and economic instability are some of the main reasons for a multitude of diseases. These then culminate in one of the “silent killers”, in layman’s terms, an unhealthy heart and in severe cases a “serial killer” or sudden cardiac arrest.
According to doctors, the longer you take to realise the importance of physical well-being the greater the risk to your health. At a seminar on World Heart Day – celebrated worldwide on September 26 – held at private hospital on Sunday, Dr Fateh Ali Tipoo Sultan warned fat deposits begin to accumulate from the age of 10 years. He cautioned the public of the alarming rate of heart diseases, responsible for 12 million annual deaths worldwide, increasing in Pakistan.
“You may not witness symptoms for a long time,” he said. “Then, if you continue to abuse your health, one day you will feel like there is a tight band around your heart – what is known as an angina attack or severe chest pain.” If you still don’t pull up your socks, this leads to ‘myocardial infarction’ or a heart attack which may lead to sudden death.
Shabana Tasleem is 63 years old. She started suffering from hypertension ten years ago, almost soon after her husband passed away. Her husband, a journalist, suffered a stroke and used to smoke at least two packs of cigarettes a day for most of his life. However, he remained bed-ridden the last decade of his life until he passed away at 63 years of age. At least 11 per cent of the nation suffers from hypertension, according to Dr Tipoo Sultan. Of the 4,000 chemicals that make up a cigarette, at least 200 are poisonous. Even shisha is a serious lapse in judgement he said, adding that the filtered tobacco was no better than smoking several cigarettes in one go.
Mrs Tasleem has been careful with her diet for the last 10 years. She mostly eats boiled food, is on medication and is trying her best to maintain an exercise regime by walking at least four times a week for 30 minutes. Her second scare came about two years ago when she was hospitalised for high blood pressure and intense palpitations. “Many people can’t differentiate between high blood pressure and heart problems and that causes a further delay in getting the proper treatment,” she said.
Dr A K Panjwani, who runs a private clinic in Lines Area, agrees. “Heart diseases in the country are increasing every day.” Before there was the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), now so many more have mushroomed to cater to the demand, he said, adding, “The problem is growing due to a lack of literacy. Everyone brings these issues into focus on international days and then simply forget about them for the rest of the year. We must work on this consistently.” Dr Panjwani is also a heart patient and underwent an angioplasty about eight years ago. Prepping for the minor surgery also revealed that he was a border-line diabetic. While the surgery was a wakeup call for Dr Panjwani, he admits he had a hard time keeping himself in check with his medication and needed daily walks.
“This is mainly because we have made many cultural and emotional connections with food,” according to Dr Romaina Iqbal, a consultant nutritionist at the Aga Khan University. “Why is it that we correlate every joyous occasion with food or sweets? Instead of sending mithai perhaps next time you can send fruit.”
Being diabetic doubles and even triples your risk of suffering from heart disease. In fact, a staggering 80 per cent of diabetic patients die of heart-related problems.
However, all the experts agree that eating out is the biggest culprit. “The younger generation is having many more health issues because they eat all the greasy food from outside all the time,” Mrs Tasleem said.
Doctors strongly advise switching away from saturated and trans fats to unsaturated fats. This includes eating fish, cooking food in corn or sunflower oil, eating more vegetables, fruit (three to four times a day) and more wholegrain foods.
There are some factors which are not in our control, such as age and family history, Dr Tipoo Sultan points out. However, the remaining factors can definitely be manipulated for a healthier lifestyle. Another factor is obesity which doctors say is the crux of many diseases and increases the risk of heart problems two to six fold. There are known to be two types of obesity, one in which a person’s physique is shaped like a pear (also known as pear-shaped paunch) and the other is the apple-shaped paunch. Pakistan is known to have more of the latter which also, if not taken care of, issues a one-way ticket to a series of heart problems.
Doctors warn that women should not have a ‘waist circumference’ of over 32 inches whereas men should be within the 36-inch waist range. Now, how many of us can say we have that?
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2010.