Love your heart

  • Health
  • Sunday, 05 Jan 2003

Cardiologist Dr KHOO KAH LIN answers some common questions about heart health.  

I AM an executive in my late 30s. With my hectic schedule and stressful lifestyle, I am worried about my heart health. My job does not require much physical activity. I know I can benefit from exercise, but how much exercise do I need in order to be healthy? 

Regular physical activity (30 minutes daily brisk walk) is recommended for everyone. It can help raise HDL and lower LDL and is particularly important for those with high triglyceride or low HDL levels who are overweight with a large waist measurement (> 102 cm/40 inches for males, > 88 cm/36 inches for females). 

A brisk walk is very “affordable”, time-wise, for the busy executive with a hectic schedule. This could mean walking in the neighbourhood for 15 minutes, or walking at your place of work. On rainy days, you can walk in big shopping malls such as Mid-Valley or KLCC.  

If you have a lot of time, then play badminton, squash, golf, swimming or jogging instead of brisk-walking. These activities, however, may “eat” up a lot of your valuable time.  


I am a 40-year old housewife with two teenage children. Heart diseases run in my family. What can I do to reduce my chances of getting heart disease? 

To reduce the chances of heart diseases, it is recommended you see your family doctor for an annual medical check up to detect modifiable risk factors for heart disease and to treat them. Modifiable heart risk factors include smoking, hypertension, diabetes, LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. 

Healthy lifestyle activities include maintenance of correct body weight – body mass index of less than 25 kg/m². Avoid central obesity – female waist circumference should be less than 88 cm (36 inches) while males should be less than 102 cm (40 inches).  

Regular daily exercise should be incorporated, such as a brisk walk for 30 minutes every day. 

It is also recommended that you modify your daily diet. It should be balanced, moderate and encompasses a variety of foods. Eating less fat, especially animal fat, also helps minimise your risks of getting heart diseases. 

I am a 50-year old grandmother. I have always been overweight, so I try to eat as little fat as possible. However, I know that I need to eat some fat in order to get essential fatty acids. I was just wondering if there was any way to tell if my diet is actually low in fat and if it supplies me with the fatty acids that I need

The concern is the essential fatty acid linoleic acid. Linoleic acid forms cell membrances and is a vital component of prostaglandins, substances involved in the regulation of blood pressure and blood clotting.  

Although the body cannot manufacture linoleic acid, we require very little each day – about one tablespoon of soya-bean oil or two tablespoon of peanut oil provides our requirements.  

In terms of energy, linoleic acid should provide about 1% to 2% of our daily calories. In a normal person, fat provides about 30% to 40% of our daily calorie intake. Most of the fat taken is “hidden” fat.  

Dietary fat comes from two sources: 

· Raw material  

These are the foods in their basic forms, and include vegetables, fruits, fish, prawns, chicken, beef, pork and lamb. These may be ‘fatty” or contain a lot of “eggs” (fish roe). 

· Preparation of food for consumption  

This may add in a lot of fat. For example “boiled vegetable” is fat free. However “tempura vegetable” is high in fat as it is deep fried in oil. Also “curry lemak” is high in fat compared to “curry assam”. 

A dietician will be able to provide you greater detail. The American Heart Association recommends a low fat diet as one with 30% of total calories from intake of fat – 10% saturated fat, 10% mono-unsaturated fat and 10% polyunsaturated fat.  

I am a working woman in my mid 40s and am slightly overweight. I was told that being overweight increases my risks of getting heart disease. As my work schedule is very hectic, I do not have much time for exercise. Considering my situation, please propose an effective way for me to control my weight.  

Weight reduction requires regular exercise and reduced intake of calories. To lean heavily only on one type of weight management can be very difficult. You can still reduce weight by adopting a very low calorie diet, but this can be difficult to maintain in the long term. 

Simple exercises for weight reduction do not take up much time and is very good for people with hectic schedules. It gives them a break and they can get back to work rejuvenated after the simple exercises.  

A simple exercise is brisk walking for 30 minutes daily. This may be done in the morning, mid-day, teatime or late evening. It can be carried out at home, in the office, at a conference venue or even in a hotel. This exercise can be easily worked into your schedule. 

I hear that Omega fatty acids are good for your health, especially for heart health. What are the benefits of these fatty acids? Also, I would like to find out the source of these fatty acids. 

Omega fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are divided into three groups –Omega 3, 6 and 9. They are long chain fatty acid with 21-23 carbon atoms. They may be of plant or fish origin. When consumed in moderate amounts, they will lower cholesterol.  

Dr Khoo Kah Lin is a consultant cardiologist who is also the Medical Director of Yayasan Jantung Malaysia. This article is part of a health campaign brought to you by Nestle Omega Plus. 

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