According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, five people suffer a heart attack, every hour. As we reach the end of National Stroke Week (28 October – 3 November 2020), let’s discuss the risks and dangers of strokes, and what you can do to reduce these risks.

The relationship between heart disease risk and age

According to Philip Marais, our Head of Health Solutions, heart health is a leading cause of strokes. Our latest Healthy Heart Score statistics demonstrate the strong relationship between heart disease risk and age. This is especially true when using three specific metrics including body mass index, blood pressure, and waist-to-height ratio.

“Data from the Multiply membership base suggests that it is entirely possible to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease as you get older by keeping track of three indicators. High blood pressure, obesity and high waist-to-height ratios have become extraordinarily commonplace in modern society. Still, these aren’t merely risk factors; they are early signs of developing heart disease,” notes Marais.

How to reduce your stroke risk

1. Keep track of your BMI (Body Mass Index)

Marais says that BMI is a measurement of a person’s weight relative to his or her height. The World Health Organisation defines an adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 as overweight. If your BMI is 30 or more, it places you in the obese category and at an increased risk of developing heart disease.”

He adds that the Multiply Healthy Heart data shows that BMI increases with age and starts dropping at around 62, but he warns that this number should not fool you into thinking that it does not place older individuals at an increased risk for heart disease.

BMI, although useful as a metric, does have specific weaknesses. “BMI includes muscle mass, and in South Africa, we have one of the healthiest gym cultures in the world. This means that younger men, typically exceed a 25 BMI because of their increased muscle mass, which does place them in the overweight capacity, even though they generally are relatively healthy.

“Older members suffer the opposite reality, where we see a loss of muscle mass after the age of 62, which is associated with an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease. According to Marais, muscle mass should be considered your health pension – “Which is why the Multiply fitness assessment includes a muscular strength component,” he says.

2. Monitor your blood pressure

The second number to follow is your blood pressure. While this is an obvious metric, Marais points out that there are different stages of hypertension (high blood pressure), “but even stage 1 hypertension (above 130/90 mmHg) places you at an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.”

Hypertension is considered an independent risk factor for heart disease, which means that having high blood pressure, even with a normal range BMI or waist-to-height ratio, places someone at an increased risk of developing heart disease in the future. “High blood pressure is a road marker that indicates that you are progressing down the road of cardiovascular disease.”

“Blood pressure can respond extremely well to lifestyle changes, but lifestyle changes are notoriously difficult to manage over the medium and long term,” says Marais.

3. Be aware of your waist-to-height ratio

Lastly, and not least, Marais says there is a heart health indicator that is often ignored, because the connection with heart disease is not immediately obvious. That is your waist-to-height ratio. “Our data shows that our stomachs tend to grow out the older we get. This clearly demonstrates the known association between age and increased cardiovascular disease risk and highlights something known as visceral obesity,” he says.

Marais explains that this is the excess fat that accumulates around the centre of the body, around the mid-section, the classical men’s beer belly or apple shape in women. “The link between visceral obesity and heart disease is a complex interaction between the body’s immune system and the food/drink we consume. Where the fat under the skin plays a critical role in energy storage, the intra-abdominal fat (belly fat) releases molecules (called cytokines) that lead to the low grade systemic inflammation that damages our arteries and precedes heart disease by about a decade or so,” says Marais.

Although heart risk indicators like BMI, blood pressure and waist-to-height ratio tend to increase with age, Marais says healthy lifestyle choices are always an option, and we need to take steps to ensure we take care of our hearts.

How Momentum Multiply rewards you for living a healthy, active life

Walk 10 000 steps in one day, or visit the gym, or burn 300 calories in one workout session, and you’ll earn an active day. One active day equals one point. The more points you get, the higher your status, and the better your rewards and partner discounts.