With any advice I give, I try to be kind and suggestive because it is hard to keep up with everything in life. But in this regard, I have to be firm. Regular testing to check heart health is crucial, whether you suspect your heart may be struggling or not. Your heart is your life force and should never be ignored. Yet many of us are so busy looking after something or someone else that we forget to stop and check-in with our own bodies. Never mind the costs or queues involved with doctor appointments. So how do we gauge if there is a real problem? And is there a way to test heart health yourself from home?
The good news is that there are, in fact, some little tests that we can perform ourselves, at home and with relative ease and speed. Nothing that will diagnose any particular problems, but they are a great way of gauging whether a doctor’s appointment should be made.
Heart Rate Home Test
Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in the space of a minute and is one of the first things you can check. From the age of about 15, the average heart rate of a person at rest should be 60 – 100 beats per minute. Children have a slightly faster heart rate that will most likely sit between 70 – 120 beats per minute.
However, if your heart rate is lower than 60 it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are unhealthy. On the contrary, many athletes or people who are very physically active, have hearts rates between 40 – 60 beats per minute.
If your heart rate is over 100, you may want to have it checked out. Although bear in mind that these numbers are for someone at rest. Certain things such as recent exercise or some consumables, like coffee or cigarettes, can increase heart rate. So check it a few times to ensure an accurate reading.
- Get a second timer that can count out 10 seconds for you.
- Place your fore and middle fingers from one hand on either the inside of your elbow, inside of your wrist or side of your neck.
- Count how many beats you feel in the 10 second space of time.
- Multiply this number by 6 to get your heart rate in one minute.
*Do not use your thumb to check as it has a pulse that could confuse the count.
Lastly, if your heartbeat is irregular then something is up. It could be caused by something serious such as arrhythmia. For which you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The Stairs Test
A recent study presented at the 2020 scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology, examined the relationship between a simple activity (climbing four flights of stairs) and results from exercise testing within a laboratory.
The conclusion was that anyone who could climb four flights of stairs in 1 minute or under, was of good cardiovascular health. Should one take 1.5 minutes or more it means that “your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor”, says study author Dr. Jesús Peteiro.
Although we may not all have four flights of stairs at home, there are almost always stairs accessible in public spaces. So one day, maybe while moving through a multistory shopping mall, try the stairs test rather than take the elevator. And even if it’s not on route somewhere, when you see some stairs, take the few minutes to give it a try. It’s just a few minutes yet it could make all the difference to your health and peace of mind.
There are a couple of other options for testing heart health at home, however, there can be small costs involved.
Blood Pressure Monitor
Firstly, you could purchase a blood pressure cuff. Your blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. And is a good first step to checking for potential heart problems. Normal blood pressure for an adult, at rest, is less than 120/80 (the order of the numbers is important as each represents a different type of pressure). Anything over 130/80 is considered high. Prolonged and unattended high blood pressure can lead to the artery walls blocking the flow of blood to the heart. Potentially causing heart disease or a heart attack.
I have a blood pressure monitor at home and it is actually a wonderful tool to have on hand. It enables you to not only monitor your own blood pressure, but also those of your loved ones. And it ends up becoming one of those things that gets used more than you ever thought it would. It is easy and quick to use, and once you have purchased one there are no further costs involved. You could even make it like a gift that you offer to any visitors, come for a braai and get your blood pressure checked at the same time! You never know when that quick check “for fun” could actually save someone from a lot of stress later on.
To sweeten the deal, blood pressure monitor cuffs are actually pretty affordable and readily available at most pharmacies (such as Dischem) or online stores. In South Africa, you can get one for anything from about R200 and up.
Home Test Kits
In many countries, one can purchase a home test kit to check for cardiovascular diseases. They are generally quite pricey but results are often fast and accurate. However, I could not find such a test available within South Africa. There are some online companies that offer DNA home test kits that can tell you if you have a disposition to any one of a list of diseases, including cardiovascular disease. But they are not cheap (one I found was over R3000), and from what I understand they do not tell you if you currently have any issues. But only check if you could be at higher risk of having a problem due to your genetics.
Common Signs of an Unhealthy Heart
Medical practitioners encourage anyone and everyone to regularly test the health of their hearts, whether from home or not. Because no one is exempt from the risk of heart problems. Even those whose lifestyle habits are conducive to heart health could have a genetic disposition that puts them at risk. There is so much more to heart health than one could imagine. And in this case, I would definitely recommend a “better safe than sorry” approach.
Here are some of the telltale signs that our body may give us to show that the heart is having a tough time:
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of stamina
- Chest discomfort
- Left shoulder pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Swollen feet
- Sleep apnea or constant fatigue
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Nausea and lack of appetite
Although remember, even though these symptoms could be due to heart trouble, there are many possible causes. So don’t panic and immediately assume that you are about to have a stroke, but do seek medical assistance. And above all, please don’t try to self-diagnose. Even health professionals, with all their knowledge, still have to run a few tests before they can pinpoint the cause of such symptoms. You could end up causing your body even more harm. And as amazing as our physical vessels are at healing, there are some things that are irreparable.