6 simple steps to help reverse heart disease

Heart disease often goes unnoticed until a major event like a heart attack. Picture: cottonbro studio/Pexels

Heart disease often goes unnoticed until a major event like a heart attack. Picture: cottonbro studio/Pexels

Published Jun 6, 2024


Heart disease has consistently held the grim title of the world’s leading cause of death. It’s a silent assassin that creeps up on people, often without warning.

Understanding why heart disease is the number one killer can help us take the necessary steps to protect our hearts and live healthier lives.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a broad term encompassing various conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels.

The most common types include coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Coronary artery disease, which happens when the arteries supplying blood to the heart narrow or get blocked, is the most prevalent type.

Statistics South Africa reports that in South Africa, deaths due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lower respiratory diseases have increased by 58.7% over 20 years, from 103 428 in 1997 to 164 205 in 2018.

There are several reasons why heart disease is so common:

Unhealthy diet

Consuming high amounts of saturated fats, trans fats, salt, and sugar can lead to plaque build-up in arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Lack of exercise

A sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, and poor cholesterol levels, all of which are major risk factors for heart disease. This includes desk jobs, high-stress work and sleep deprivation.


Tobacco smoke damages the lining of the blood vessels, leading to a build-up of fatty material which narrows the arteries. Smoking also raises blood pressure.


Excessive alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure, contribute to heart muscle disease, and lead to irregular heartbeats.

Heart disease often goes unnoticed until a major event like a heart attack. However, there are warning signs to look out for according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, or weakness in your arms or legs
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue

Prevention: What you can do

While some risk factors like age and family history are uncontrollable, others can be managed with lifestyle changes.

It has been shown by research that changing from our known comfort of our habits to an unknown lifestyle requires significant mental and physical adjustment

Here are some steps to reduce your risk:

Time Restricted Eating

TRE is the biggest lever to improve insulin sensitivity.

• Start with a 12-hour fasting window

• Gradually increase to 14-16 hours

• Eat the biggest meals in daytime

This teaches your body how to use fat as a fuel source

Eating more fruit and veg is recommended to manage blood sugar. Picture: Element5 Digital/Pexels

Eat more fibre

• Men: Get 35g daily.

• Women: Get 25g daily.

What should you eat?

Whole foods and nutrient-dense plants like…

1. Oats

2. Pears

3. Apples

4. Carrots

5. Broccoli

6. Avocado

7. Raspberries

8. Strawberries

9. Dragon fruit

10. All vegetables

Walk after meals

This lowers post-meal blood sugar spikes.

Find ways to make this as attractive as possible:

• listen to podcasts or music

• watch Netflix if you have to

• start slow (5 minutes is better than nothing)

Managing carbohydrate intake is key to controlling blood sugar levels. Eating fewer carbs leads to less blood sugar, which in turn means lower insulin levels.

To achieve this, it is recommended to keep daily carb intake below 100 grams.

3 meals x 50g of Protein

• Get 50g of protein at each meal (30g if female)

• Best protein sources: lean meats, fish, eggs, whey

• 3 meals a day, no snacks (minimizes blood sugar variability)

Muscle acts like a sponge for blood sugar by absorbing the sugar from the bloodstream.

When we consume carbohydrates, they break down into glucose, a type of sugar that enters the blood. Muscles use this glucose for energy, especially during physical activity.

The more muscle you have, the more glucose it can absorb, which helps keep blood sugar levels stable and prevents spikes. This process supports overall health and aids in managing conditions like diabetes.

Walk or run after meals. Picture: nappy /Pexels

Get moving

Getting lean and improving your health doesn't require you to devote your life to the gym.

You need to do enough to trigger muscle building.

2-3x a week is enough if you:

• pick proper exercises (walk the dog)

• use a full-body split (house chores)

Prioritise sleep and sunshine

Make sure to get:

• 7.5+ hours of sleep

• 5-10 minutes of morning sun

• 30 minutes of total sun time daily

Raising awareness and educating ourselves about heart disease is crucial. By understanding risk factors and adopting a healthier lifestyle, we can reduce the incidence of heart disease and improve quality of life globally.