When you eat a junk western or rich Nigerian diet,[i] you risk a heart attack – Abi Adegboye
Nobody plans to have a massive heart attack at 42 leaving behind parents, wife, and children unceremoniously but this is one of those cases where a failure to plan, is a plan to fail. In other words, if you fail to plan on avoiding a heart attack, you are on a collision course to having one! In recent times, we’ve lost at least three significant members of our community to heart attack; Komlar Dumor being the most well-known. All died in their 40s. Given that I was personally devastated by the untimely death of a pillar of my immediate community, I am giving us all, a severe warning – SHAPE UP!
Scientific research has proved that there are certain risk factors that predispose one to heart disease. The top culprits are as follows:
- Obesity – or being overweight stemming from ‘over-consumption of foods and like substances.’ Obesity is a major indicator of many lifestyle diseases including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and respiratory problems.[ii] Further, medical scientists have fine-tuned their analysis to indicate that you are at greater risk of heart disease if the measurement of your waist circumference is higher than half your height. In other words, if you are 5’ 4” (64 inches) and your waist measures at 36 inches, you are at risk, like me; so it’s not only those who weigh over 200Ibs who should care.
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes – these diseases increase one’s risk of heart disease.
- A sedentary lifestyle otherwise known as “sitting on your butt all day” lulls one into a heart situation. This particular indicator is troublesome for professionals who have jobs in which they sit for most of the day. They do not exert any physical energy yet they are tired at the end of their workday. Unfortunately, people who don’t exercise are 50% more likely to have a fatal heart attack then those who do.[iii]
- Lack of knowledge – not knowing is not planning and not planning leads to failure. Know your numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol, Body Mass Index (BMI), blood sugar and then watch them like a hawk. Family history? Yes, if you can get it but don’t count on the fact that because your father did not die of a heart attack, you are not at risk. For one, he did not live on the same diet as you!
- Periodontal disease (infection that attacks the tissues that support the teeth resulting in bleeding gums, loss of teeth, and even bone structure beneath teeth). Apparently, the same bacteria which causes periodontal disease causes the blockage of arteries that result in heart attacks. Thus, if you have issues with your teeth, you better check your heart too.
Every slightly educated person knows the stats on heart disease (and if you don’t know, google it). So, why aren’t you doing anything? Is your love for Banku greater than that for your first born who thanks to your careless lifestyle would be forced into a future with no father? Is your affinity for Orisirisi and Tinko greater than your care for your father and mother who would weep in their old age if you die young? Or is your vision clouded by an inhalation of Ayamase that you cannot perceive how grievous your loss will be to our community? Note I said nothing about love for your wife because you might be seeking to escape the woman who fed you, thrice a day, the poison which led to your demise. This brings to mind the story of a distance cousin. When I visited the newly-weds, he was trim and fit though the wife proudly served us fried snails. Twelve odd years later at 40-something, he was morbidly obese and dead of a massive coronary!
So, what to do?
- Eat Right - At meal times, eat no more than a fist-sized helping of amala, iyan, eba, kenke or any other carb. Same with rice – white, green or orange. Brown, eh, maybe a little more. Surround your fist-sized carb of choice with freshly cooked vegetables (hint: they should still be green). If you must, round up your meal with no larger than a sliver of meat or as often as possible, opt for fish. Overall in nutrition, imitate the Mediterranean diet as much as you can – fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, olive oil, and some wine. On the same level, COOK BETTER! Lay off the salt. Replace with garlic and flavorful herbs. And the oil… Do reduce and switch the oil to one made from olives. Don’t be like that Sister who argued that the only way you can tell an authentic Edikang Ikong soup is if the palm oil is floating on top.
- Workout – You eat every day so, workout every day to release the garbage from your intake. If you cannot go to a gym or park, dance in your living room; walk up and down the stairs; toss your kid in the air… do something for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Check your health – You alone carry your full medical history. So get checked out by a doctor and know your numbers (as discussed earlier). When you know your risks, you are better able to manage your health. Most of us wait for disaster to strike before seeking medical attention. Unfortunately, heart disease is one disaster that could end it all in one blow without even giving you the option of seeking help!
- Clean Well - Dental hygiene is a must. Floss around teeth and gum lines. Brush well and visit your dentist regularly.
- Lay off the holy water – Gallons of the thing will not prevent a heart attack if you continue to eat as you do at church events. You’re served specially – two plates, heaped with large portions of everything on display, hand-delivered to your table along with requisite sodas to aid indigestion. And to show your approval, you pray over your plates and dig in. Then, you top it all with holy water praying it will remove the ill-effects of your consumption. No, it won’t! Whatever you sow, you reap. Don’t believe you are too spiritual for physical laws to affect you. Indeed, if you are too spiritual for the physical realm, you will soon change realms. And Pastors, don’t let your flock love you to death. My aunt told me the following story: In the 1980s, The Apostolic Church found that within months of becoming Pastor (Regional Pastor in Pentecostal terminology), their leaders died. Certainly, some believed they had simply attained the holiness of Enoch and were thus taken by God. But, others began to review the crisis and found that, once made pastors, they were venerated. They got hefty servings of food; chores were done for them; and people stood at their beck and call. In a short period, they became fat, indolent, and dead. So the church board prescribed a regimen of good nutrition and exercise for all pastors. And the crisis ceased. So, watch your helpers; don’t allow them to ‘help’ dig your grave.
- Release stress – you must do something to relieve stress other than sitting at food-fests waiting for the party to start. The music is too loud, the company too cantankerous, and the food too unhealthy to diffuse tension. Instead, take short vacations, meditate, sing, dance, and yes, exercise. Get rid of your worries and cares.
- Carry an Aspirin around: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that men with no history of heart disease or stroke aged 45-79 years use aspirin to prevent myocardial infarctions and that women with no history of heart disease or stroke aged 55-79 use aspirin to prevent stroke when the benefit of aspirin use outweighs the potential harm of gastro-intestinal hemorrhage or other serious bleeding.[iv]
- Don’t smoke – a ‘No brainer’ but don’t hang around people who do either. And don’t fry your oil to smoking point!
In conclusion, there’s just too much knowledge out there for us to continue living in ignorance. Africans have the lowest life expectancy rates in the world! Sure we have so much coming at us, but we do not help matters by playing ostrich about heart disease. So, before you put that fistful of Amala in your mouth or chomp on a double burger, think, “Am I paving my way to an early grave?” Don’t plan to have a massive coronary; instead, plan NOT to have one!
NB: this write up is directed at men simply because we’ve lost more of them lately. It could easily have been directed at women as more women die from heart attacks annually than men. So both gender, beware.
NB 2: Would Pentecostals please quit calling it a ‘Celebration of Life?’ It is a funeral. There’s nothing remotely celebratory about the death of a 40 year old. Instead, work on preventing such occurrences so we can truly celebrate life!
[i] A rich Nigerian diet is characterized by abundance of foods normally reserved for parties – jollof/fried rice, livestock of all shapes and sizes, pastries, and bottled drinks of all brands and labels. This manner of eating predisposes one to obesity and attendant diseases of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Did you know that the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan had no records of hypertension until 1972? That’s why it’s nicknamed “Aisan Olowo” (the disease of the rich) because only the nouveau riche urban middle class could afford the diet, dominated by imported rice, that bred the disease.
[ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obesity: Halting the Epidemic by Making Health Easier at a Glance 2011, http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/obesity.htm
[iii] Rachael Maier, Heart Disease Statistics, Published on February 28, 2014 - http://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease/statistics#4