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Category Archives: Healthy Living


Reduce Stress

Stress is a normal physiological response to ‘dangerous’ situations and therefore often beneficial. In fact, most people need a little bit of stress to keep their lives interesting!  But stress becomes unhealthy when it is excessive, chronic and managed poorly.

Stress is not only caused by negative situations or experiences, but by happy occasions too. As we experience the ups and downs of everyday life or whenever there is a major change in our lives, stress occurs. The key lies in cultivating a positive attitude towards stress and finding ways to recognise and manage it effectively.

How does stress affect you?

Everyone may experience stress differently, from physical symptoms such as a headache, clenched jaw, tight muscles to feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, irritability and impatience. Having trouble sleeping or lower energy levels is also a common sign of stress. It’s important to recognise how you respond to stress as this affects your health. Do you:

  • Eat more
  • Skip meals
  • Drink alcohol
  • Smoke
  • Sleep more, or less
  • Try do too many things at once
  • Procrastinate

How does it affect your risk for heart disease? 

Stress alone seldom causes heart disease, but it is a well-known risk factor that contributes the development of heart disease. It is considered a risk factor as much as cigarette smoking, diabetes, and hypertension for CVD onset, due to underlying biological and neurochemical mechanisms. Being stressed often leads to other unhealthy behaviours which are often major risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as:

  • skipping exercise
  • snacking on unhealthy foods
  • overeating
  • smoking or drinking alcohol excessively

Not everybody has a negative reaction to stress. Stress becomes unhealthy when there is too much for too long.

Tips to manage stress better 

While we cannot always escape stress, managing stress effectively is important for a healthy lifestyle, so here are some tips to help manage stress better and keep your health in check:

  • A good diet. It is a good stress coping mechanism because certain nutrients are used up more rapidly when one is under stress such as B vitamins which are essential to a healthy central nervous system as well as vitamin C and zinc which are essential to the immune system.
  • Learn to say ‘no’. Practice saying ‘no’ when you are feeling over-burdened.
  • Get organised. Use “to do” lists to help you prioritise and focus on most important tasks.
  • Remember to laugh. It’s your body’s natural stress-release mechanism.
  • Do something you enjoy. Set aside some time for relaxation or doing something that you enjoy.
  • Get active. Physical activity is an excellent stress-reliever because it provides a distraction, the release of mood-enhancing endorphins and provides an outlet for frustration. It also increases long-term resilience to stress.
  • Get enough sleep. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Brush up on sleep hygiene if sleeping is a struggle.
  • Cut the bad habits. Rather than turning to alcohol, smoking or caffeine to relieve your stress, exercise regularly and eat a healthy balanced diet; this will help you to feel energized and more able to tackle what life throws at you.
  • Learn to accept the things that you cannot change. Focus your energy instead on the things that you have control over.
  • Speak to someone. If you are having trouble handling stress then speak to someone, whether it’s a friend, family member or a professional such as a psychologist or social worker.



Get Active

Being active is one of the most valuable things you can do to help maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease. Getting active should become a regular habit and a way of life. Any activity that gets you slightly out of breath and the heart pumping faster, counts.  Try brisk walking, cycling, gym classes, soccer, swimming, dancing, gardening or playing an active game with the kids!

In South Africa, over a quarter of men and almost half of women are physically inactive. The heart is a muscle and needs exercise to stay fit and healthy. The heart of someone who exercises regularly will beat 45-50 times per minute compared to someone who does not exercise regularly and whose heart will beat 70-75 times per minute. This means 36 000 extra beats per day and 13 million extra beats every year!

The price of physical inactivity (not taking part in enough physical activity) is staggering!

  • It increases the chance of developing many diseases, including high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, diabetes, cancers, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
  • Is linked with depression, anxiety, stress and poor aging.
  • In comparison to those who exercise regularly, inactive people double their risk of suffering a heart attack and have a higher risk of dying immediately after such an attack.

The good news is that regular exercise can give you the most profound long-term health benefits.

What are the benefits of being active regularly?

Everyone benefits from physical activity: children, adolescents, young- and middle-aged adults, older adults as well as people who are disabled or who have disease limitations. Physical activity improves your quality of life, reduces your risk of heart disease and strokes, and provides many other health benefits such as:

  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome by:
    • Lowering your blood pressure by 4-9 mmHg which is almost as much as some antihypertensive medications
    • Lowering cholesterol levels and improving ‘good’ cholesterol levels
    • Lowering blood sugar
    • Improving blood circulation
  • Exercises your heart, keeping it strong.
  • Reduces your risk of some cancers.
  • Helps to control your weight, if you follow a healthy energy restricted diet, by decreasing body fat, increasing muscle mass and increasing metabolic rate.
  • Strengthens your bones and muscles.
  • Improves your mental health and mood as it relieves stress, tension, anger and depression as a result of ‘feel good’ hormones being released during physical activity.
  • Improves your ability to fall asleep quickly and sleep well.
  • Improves mental acuity and wellness since physical activity increases blood flow and hence oxygen to the brain.
  • Delays or prevents chronic diseases associated with aging, improves your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, especially if you are an older adult.
  • Smokers who exercise are twice as successful in their attempts to quit. Click here for more advice on quitting.
  • Increases your longevity. When you are physically inactive, your body slowly loses strength, stamina and ability to function optimally.

How much exercise do I need?

Health benefits occur with at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, but additional benefits occur with more physical activity. (Don’t believe us? Watch this) Adults:

  • Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, which can be spread over the week however you like. E.g. 30 minutes 5 days per week.


  • At least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week e.g. 25 minutes 3 days per week


  • Muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 or more days per week for additional health benefits. 


  • Encouraging regular physical activity in childhood can promote these healthy behaviours into adulthood and can help to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.
  • Accumulate at least 60 minutes of enjoyable moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity every day. This can be spread across the day e.g. 20 minutes during 1st break, 20 minutes during 2nd break and 20 minutes after school.
  • Time spent being inactive with activities such as watching television, playing computer or play station games, and cell phone use should also be limited to no more than 1 or 2 hours per day.

Which types of exercise work best?

  • Any type of physical activity is good – anything that makes you move your body and increases the amount of energy (kilojoules) your body uses.
  • Walking, dancing, gardening, cycling, swimming, team sports such as soccer or rugby, and other similar activities, including your daily household chores, are just some examples of simple but effective physical activity and can all contribute to your wellbeing and general fitness.

Moderate intensity aerobic activity Requires a moderate amount of effort, and causes a noticeable increase in the heart rate and a light sweat. You should be able to talk but not sing while doing activity at this level. On a scale relative to your personal capacity it’s usually 11-14 on a scale of 1 to 20.

  • Brisk walking, dancing, slow cycling, water aerobics, walking your dog
  • Housework and domestic chores, gardening (raking leaves, mowing the lawn)
  • General building tasks (e.g. painting, roofing), carrying or moving moderate loads (<20kg)
  • Using a manual wheelchair

Vigorous intensity aerobic activity Requires a large amount of effort, causes rapid breathing and a substantial increase in heart rate. You should be able to say a few words without stopping to catch your breath while doing activity at this level. On a scale relative to your personal capacity, it’s usually 17-19 on a scale of 1 to 20.

  • Running, race walking, jogging, fast dancing, fast cycling, aerobics
  • Walking, hiking or cycling uphill
  • Competitive sports and games, martial arts
  • Heavy gardening (shovelling, digging or hoeing), carrying or moving heavy loads (>20kg)

Tips to get more active in every day life

Doing some physical activity is better than doing nothing at all!

  • Find a friend or family member to exercise with, and choose activities you find to be fun, and try listening to music while you exercise.
  • Start slowly and set realistic goals that you can work towards.
  • Remember to wear comfortable clothes and properly fitted foot ware.
  • Walk to visit a friend instead of phoning them, this saves money too.
  • Walk with your child to school or to the shop, this way you get to spend more quality time with them too.
  • Get off the bus, taxi or train one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
  • Walk instead of taking a taxi, this also saves money.
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift.
  • If you use a car, park further away from the entrance to the shopping mall.
  • Over the weekend, walk around the block, along the beach, or in your local park or botanical garden for pleasure and relaxation.
  • Take opportunities to stand more e.g. when speaking on the phone.
  • Play with your children or grandchildren.
  • Adopt a dog and take it for regular walks.
  • Take a lunch break at work and go for a short walk.
  • Get moving to your favourite music.
  • Join a dancing group.
  • Take up a new hobby or sport, such as a regular ball game with friends, or hiking, swimming or fishing.

Should I see a doctor before I become physically active?

  • If you are middle-aged or older, are inactive, at high risk for heart disease or you already have a medical condition, you should seek medical advice before you start exercise or significantly increase your physical activity.
  • Most healthy people of any age can safely engage in moderate levels of physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, gardening and housework) without consulting a doctor first.
  • Walking is the safest and easiest form of exercise for everybody.



Stop Vaping

What you need to know about vaping

The truth about vaping is still very much up in the air, as the studies haven’t been able to run for long enough to be conclusive. This said, there are many things which have demonstrated that vaping is far from benign. It might be healthier than smoking. But it might also be far, far worse. We just don’t know.

If you’d like help quitting, then we’d recommend trying Allen Carr’s programme. It’s worked for millions of people around the world.

This is what we know about vaping:

Vaping’s full consequences are still unknown

A recent study found that smoking cigarettes decreases the gene expression of 53 genes that play a part in fighting viruses and bacteria. Vaping affects an astonishing 358 of them. What’s scary is that we have no idea what this actually means yet.

Vaping will affect your breath

Vape contains propylene glycol and nicotine, both of which remove moisture and stop saliva from being able to wash away bacteria associated with halitosis. The nicotine also restricts blood flow throughout your body, your gums included. This increases the risk of developing gingivitis and periodontitis.

Vaping has been linked to hair loss

Nicotine increases blood pressure and restricts blood vessels in your scalp. Hair follicles are deprived of the necessary nourishment needed to grow healthy hair. Vaping has been found to directly affect the epithelial cells which play a key role in healthy hair growth.

Vaping has sadly reversed the decline in nicotine usage amongst the youth

Nicotine use amongst teenagers were on the decline in recent years. Sadly, due to e-cigarettes, it’s now increasing once again.

Vaping poses a serious risk to teenagers

The teen brain is extremely receptive to the effects of nicotine. Those who start early have deeper addictions and more difficulty quitting. Vaping’s flavours, e-cigarette design and ‘clouding’ culture are all brilliantly designed to appeal to teenagers.

Vaping is linked to erectile disfunction

The nicotine in vape juices is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to your extremities, including the penis. The higher the intensity of nicotine intake, the greater the degree of erectile dysfunction. Prolonged, heavy use can cause permanent blood-vessel damage.

Second-hand vape is dangerous to everyone

The exhaled aerosol clouds contain cancer-causing chemicals like aldehydes, which puts everyone around you at risk. Vapers also leave residual nicotine on indoor surfaces. These can lead to third-hand exposure through the skin, inhalation and ingestion, long after the aerosol has cleared the room.

Vaping poses a serious risk of poisoning in households with young children

Vape juices are highly concentrated mixtures of chemicals and dangerous amounts of nicotine, which also largely have flavours which appeal to kids’ palettes. This makes them a substantial poisoning risk in your household.

Vaping will cause skin dryness and saggy skin

Vape juice contains propylene glycol which attracts and traps water away from your skin. Most vape juices contain nicotine, which restricts the veins, causing less blood flow to the skin. This starves the skin of nutrients it needs to stay healthy, drying it out and causing it to wrinkle and get saggy.

Vaping will damage your oral health

Vaping can cause irreversible damage to your mouth and gums due to the chemicals in the vape juice. Oral inflammation can occur as a result of oxidative stress, as well as increase the potential for oral diseases.

Vaping is likely to give you cancer

Vape juices are filled with a variety of solvents like propylene glycol and glycerine. As well as metallic particles like chromium, cadmium and lead. When heat is applied to them, they form new unknown compounds, which are likely to be aldehydes.

Aldehydes are known to cause cancer.

Vape clouds are aerosols, not water vapour

Vape juices are filled with a variety of chemicals, which compound when exposed to heat and turn into an aerosol, not water vapour, which many people think they’re exhaling. So, that big cloud you’re exhaling is a combination of unknown chemical compounds, as every vape juice contains different, and largely unregulated elements.



Healthy eating – making small changes for BIG results

As most of us are well aware, overweight and obesity are affecting the majority of South Africans, especially adult women and preschool children. This is putting South Africans at risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and strokes, diabetes and some cancers.

Some of the main reasons why people become overweight or obese are because they are:

  • Eating large amounts of food (food portions);
  • Eating high-energy foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt;
  • Not eating a variety of food from the different food groups.
  • Not engaging in regular physical activity

The time to change and act is now! Our mission at the Heart and Stroke Foundation is to halt the rise of premature deaths through cardiovascular disease (CVD) in South Africa and to promote the adoption of healthy lifestyles. Here are some key messages about making the right food choices and making them part of an overall healthy lifestyle:

  • Eat a variety of food at each meal, in other words include foods from two or preferably more food groups at each meal:
  • Serve the correct portions of food onto individual plates, instead of putting serving dishes on the table.  This will avoid being tempted by second or more helpings.
  • Be aware that your body may only experience feeling “full” sometime after eating your meal.  Therefore, eat slowly, chew properly and pay attention to your body’s internal cues to avoid overeating.  Do not eat in front of the TV as this may lead to being distracted and not paying attention to signals of becoming “full”, thereby leading to overeating.
  • Stick to regular meal and evenly-spaced snack times and do not skip meals. Vegetable sticks or fruit and low-fat or fat-free yoghurt or milk are good examples of healthy snacks.  Don’t eat too late at night or just before you go to bed.
  • Encourage children to take a lunch box and healthy snacks such as fruit and yoghurt to school and to avoid buying meals and snacks that are high in sugar, fat and salt.
  • Many restaurants serve more food than is appropriate for one person. Control the amount of food that ends up on your plate by sharing a meal with a friend or asking the waiter to put half the meal in a “doggie bag” or “take away container”.  Alternatively order a small or regular portion size instead of a large portion or have a salad and a starter as your main meal.
  • Limit the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (like fizzy drinks and sweetened juices) and replace with unflavoured water, maas or low-fat or fat-free milk.
  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned “no salt added” vegetables, meat, fish or chicken. Rinse canned foods like beans to remove some of the salt (sodium).
  • Use fresh and dried herbs, spices, and salt/sodium-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table instead of salt, canned soups, salad dressings, stock powders/cubes, and remove the salt shaker from the table.
  • Choose food products with the Heart Mark as these are lower in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium (salt), added sugar and are higher in fibre (where applicable).


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