Start young: Heart care should begin at puberty, say doctors

Gone are the days when heart ailments were diseases of the elderly. With changing lifestyles, as the age when cardiac problems strike dips down the graph, doctors advise that precautionary measures should start earlier — even at puberty — to keep such ailments at bay in the future.

Scary as it may sound, doctors have a simple logic to their advice: It’s better to inculcate healthy habits young, rather than be sorry about the effects of the fast-paced-junk-food-lifestyle later.

“The age to take care of your heart has decreased, and I would advise one to do so as puberty hits. Precautionary measures should start by the age of 15,” said Pratik Soni, consultant cardiologist at Mumbai’s Wockhardt Hospitals.

According to Soni, “Just like adults, modern lifestyle, late nights, little exercise, stress and junk food have affected children too.” This has, therefore, made them vulnerable to various lifestyle diseases as well.

“Whatever one eats from the age of 10 to 20 may expose them to heart problems later. Deposition of cholesterol and plaque doesn’t start at the age of 20 or 30, it starts at the age of nine,” Soni said.

“Once the male or female body and brain development have been completed, which means at puberty, parents should ensure that children are alert and should start leading a healthy life,” he added.

Delhi-based cardiologist Sameer Sukhani agreed. “Children these days are exposed to a very different lifestyle than they were earlier. Junk food has become a part of life, stress — thanks to peer pressure and high parental expectations about marks in school — and little exercise all expose them to lifestyle diseases. Childhood obesity and diabetes in children, which were only heard of in the West, are now a reality here as well. So heart care should start early, to prevent the risk later in life,” Sukhani said.

Anuj Bhasin, interventional cardiologist at SRV hospital in Goregaon in Mumbai, said that the age at which one faces the risk of cardiac problems may decrease if there is a family history of the ailment. “For example, if your father had heart disease at 50, you may be detected with it at 40, a decade earlier,” he said.

Stress, one of the biggest culprits for cardiac ailments — and many other ailments too — is a given in today’s life. “Avoid stress” is impractical advice, as many would know. Managing stress, however, is a mantra one can follow.

Again, when it comes to precautions, doctors say that the effects of stress can have long-term effects. “Most cardiac patients have suffered stress. That also starts from a young age. Like during school time, kids face peer pressure and that continues till their professional life. Apart from that, kids are in a never-ending race. Parents want their child to be in an IIT or IIM or get into a medicine or engineering course. There’s a lot of pressure to perform,” Soni said.

As people who are exposed to very high levels of stress every day, how do cardiologists take care of their hearts?

“I do moderate exercises two-three times a week, and yoga for five minutes daily,” Bhasin said. He also tries to eat healthy and avoids late dinners.

Soni religiously sticks to walking. “I do 15-30 minutes of brisk walking during the day or at night. I understand professionals working round-the-clock may find it difficult to do regular exercise. Walking is the best exercise; it burns calories.”

“I also have low-calorie and high-fibre food, have meals at proper times and avoid junk food,” he added.

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