5 Tips to travel the heart-friendly way

It is that time of the year when many of us are making plans to travel. Whether it is a short weekend trip or a long journey to a faraway place, there are some things to take into account before you go on a holiday, especially if you or your loved ones have been diagnosed with a cardiac condition.

Rule no.1: Get your doctor’s green signal

It is very important to discuss with your doctor prior to finalizing your holiday; a thorough check-up is warranted to ensure that you are medically stable and fit for travel. The location that you are planning to visit, the weather conditions there, the activities that you intend to engage in and the accessibility to healthcare are some of the key points that your doctor will expect you to know about, based on which you will be allowed or advised against the proposed trip.

For instance, if you have high blood pressure and coronary heart disease, travel to a high altitude location and engaging in activities like hiking at high altitude needs extra preparation and care. On the other hand, if you would like to do voluntary work in a remote village, identifying a hospital nearby will be key to ensuring a safe trip.

With device therapy for the heart (like pacemakers and ICDs)becoming commonplace, it is important to keep a device-card to show to the airport security check personnel (as metal detectors can beep due to the metal parts in a cardiac device).

Rule no. 2: Stock up on your medicines

The last thing you want to be doing on your holiday is search desperately for a medical shop that has a supply of your prescription drugs! Purchase your medications before leaving as per the number of days of travel (keep some extra stock for those unplanned extensions) and make a note of the expiry date of all meds. Keep a copy of your prescription handy in your hand baggage as you tuck away some pills for use during the commute. Be aware of the ideal storage requirements of your drugs (as you neither want your insulin frozen nor your capsules melted).

If your doctor is adjusting your BP or sugar medicines based on weekly readings, try not to leave on a vacation until the dosing and the BP has stabilized. I recently had to provide emergency medical care for an elderly lady on an international flight. She was being treated for hypertension and had left on a long flight journey within 2 days of a major adjustment to her medication. Her BP shot up to dangerous levels during the flight and she was almost in a hypertensive crisis but we were able to bring things under control.

Rule no. 3: Opt for a good travel Insurance scheme

There is nothing like good travel insurance coverage to take care of your unexpected illnesses while away from home. Many factors such as length of holiday, nature of disease and requirements of your destination country should be considered prior to buying travel insurance. It is a good idea to read the fine print to understand what is covered and what is not.

Rule no. 4: Read about any health warnings or vaccine requirements

While travelling is a pleasant experience and holds a special place in our hearts, it is mandatory to check for any health risks such as viral infections or endemic illnesses that could be a cause for concern for you. Likewise, if any vaccines have to be taken prior to arriving at a particular destination, you have to comply with that requirement to prevent any travel-related infections.

Rule no.5: Make time for health-promoting activities

Once you’re off on your vacation, do not forget to eat healthily, to get your daily dose of exercise and to immerse yourself in the new environment. While eating healthy can be more challenging outside than at home, focusing on natural and less processed foods and keeping some healthy snacks like nuts and fruits for your hunger pangs are tips to follow.

While you may be walking around monuments and natural spectacles, keep a track of how much activity you are getting and top it up with simple exercises like warm-ups, cool-down stretches and strength training while on the move. A practical suggestion is to keep a health diary (on a phone or any other device or on paper) wherein you record any changes in your health status and any new medicines or therapy you follow while travelling.

In conclusion, the most important rule is to have a lot of fun with the confidence that you have planned well in advance and taken all the necessary precautions.

Control high blood pressure by eating right

With high blood pressure or hypertension being the most widespread cause of heart disease and stroke, let us try to understand the ideal eating pattern to prevent and control hypertension.

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a flexible and balanced diet plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for our life. This DASH diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that is designed to prevent and control high blood pressure.

The goal of DASH diet is to encourage people to reduce salt in their diet and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, that help lower blood pressure.

There are two versions of the DASH diet:

  • Standard DASH diet.You can consume up to 2,300 mg (or) 1 teaspoon of salt a day. This is meant for anyone who wishes to adopt a healthy food pattern to prevent heart and blood vessel problems.
  • Lower sodium DASH diet.You can consume up to 1,500 mg (or) ¾ teaspoon of salt per day. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, swelling or edema of feet or have heart failure this is the salt level that is ideal for you.

Foods to be included more in your daily diet

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy
  • Whole-Grains
  • Lean Meat, Fish, & Poultry
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes

Foods to be kept to a minimum

  • Sodium (salt)
  • Sugar / Sweets
  • Fatty meats
  • Saturated and Trans Fats

Now, let us see the recommended Daily Servings for the healthy food groups:

  1. Vegetables: 4-5 servings
    1 serving = 250 ml (1 cup) raw green leafy vegetables; 125 ml (½ cup) cooked vegetables

Examples: Broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, avocadoes, mushroom, brussels sprouts, spinach and other greens or veggies etc

Advantages: Vegetables are packed with potassium, magnesium as well as fibre and vitamins.

  1. Fruits : 4-5 servings
    1 serving = 1 medium piece of fruit; ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit

Examples: Bananas, apples, grapes, berries, lemons, pineapple, apricots, tomato, oranges etc

Advantages: Fruits are great sources of fibre, potassium, and magnesium and low in fat. They can easily be enjoyed as a snack or a side dish with other main courses.

Note: If you go for canned fruit or juice, make sure no sugar is added.

  1. Grains (mainly whole grains): 6-8 servings

1 serving = 1 slice whole-wheat bread; 125 ml (½ cup) cooked rice, pasta or cereal

Examples: Bread, wheat, brown rice, pasta, oats, millets etc

Advantages: Always focus on whole grains instead of refined grains because it is low fat and nutrient-dense with many essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, B vitamins and zinc.

  1. Dairy Products (low fat): 2-3 servings

1 serving = 1 cup of skimmed milk (or) low fat yoghurt

Examples: Milk, yogurt, cheese etc

Advantages: Dairy provides plenty of calcium, protein, and vitamin D. However, aim for low fat or fat-free dairy, since dairy can otherwise be loaded with fat.

  1. Lean meat, Poultry and Fish: 2 servings or less

1 serving = 3 ounces of lean meat, poultry and fish

Note: The area of your palm covers 3 ounces of meat

Examples: Chicken, fish, egg etc

Advantages: Meat can be a rich source of protein, iron, B vitamins and zinc. Take heart- healthy fish such as tuna, salmon and herring which provides omega 3 fatty acids to reduce your bad cholesterol.

  1. Nuts, Seeds and Legumes: 4-5 servings per week

1 serving = 1/3 cup nuts; 2 tablespoons seeds;1/2 cup cooked beans or peas.

Examples: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, peas, lentils, peanuts etc

Advantages: Seeds and legumes are good sources of protein, magnesium, and potassium. They’re also protective against certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease due to their phytochemicals content.

  1. Fats and Oils: 2-3 servings per day

1 serving = 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Examples: Olive oil, canola oil, safflower, sunflower, soybean etc

Advantages: Fat helps your body’s immune system and allows you to absorb vitamins. However, too much of fat increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. 

Keep away from trans fats, found commonly in processed and fried food.

Health Benefits of the DASH diet

  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Lowers bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol
  • Helps in weight management

More DASH Tips

  • If you now eat one or two vegetables a day, add another serving at lunch and dinner.
  • If you don’t eat fruit now or have only juice at breakfast, add a serving of fruit to your meals or switch out your juice for the whole fruit.
  • Opt for low fat or skimmed dairy when you might normally do full fat or cream.
  • Snack on nuts, raisins, unsalted and unbuttered popcorn or frozen yogurt rather than salty chips and cookies.
  • Use low fat or fat free condiments, and try reducing your salad dressing amounts by half. Home-made salad dressing consisting of pepper powder, lime juice, jeera powder and olive oil is a good alternative to store-purchased dressings.
  • Beware of the hidden salt lurking in pre-processed foods like ready-to-eat noodles, papadums, canned foods, ketchup and cooking pastes/powders.

Relax, Refresh, Recharge

In the midst of our busy lifestyle, we very often forget to relax and rejuvenate our mind and body. Relaxation is nothing but a state of physical and mental calmness. Being relaxed automatically gives us the ability to manage psychological stress and anxiety in all situations. There are many techniques to help us attain a relaxed state, in this blog, I’m going to walk you through the popular stress-buster called “Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique”.

As the name implies, this involves sequentially contracting and relaxing various muscle groups in our body.

The two steps to be followed in this technique are:

  1. Contract  (or) tighten
  2. Relax (or) release

Who should do it?

While anybody who desires a relaxed mind can follow this technique, anxious, stressed out and psychologically disturbed individuals should definitely practice this method for an improved state of mind.

Before starting…

  • Set a quiet place in your room
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing
  • Free your time
  • Sit (or) lie down on a mat on the floor or on a firm bed
  • Initially take 5 deep breaths

Steps

  • Inhale and contract one muscle for 5 to 10 seconds
  • Then exhale and suddenly release the tension in that muscle
  • Give yourself 10 to 20 seconds to relax, and then move on to the next muscle
  • Try to focus on the changes when the muscle is relaxed
  • Gradually work your way up the body contracting and relaxing muscle groups

Note

  • The muscle contraction must be gentle, not too strong and painful
  • The technique must be performed slowly and your mind should be focused on it
  • It takes some time (probably a week or two) to get the right technique
  • Each session would take about 10 minutes, you can start by doing it 2 times per day.
  • Stay relaxed for a bit, and then slowly returns to daily life.

Benefits

  • Alleviates stress and anxiety
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Relieves insomnia
  • Prevents heart ailments by keeping the risk factors under control
  • Improves symptoms of chronic pain
  • Improves memory and concentration as it is a form of meditation when done right

Contract-Relax and Feel Relaxed