Amid coronavirus pandemic, a healthy heart is more crucial than ever

Amid coronavirus pandemic, a healthy heart is more crucial than ever
CVD, including heart disease and stroke, is the world’s number-one killer, claiming more than 17.9 million lives each year. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 30 September 2020

Amid coronavirus pandemic, a healthy heart is more crucial than ever

Amid coronavirus pandemic, a healthy heart is more crucial than ever
  • World Heart Day on Sept. 29 is intended to remind people worldwide to pause and re-evaluate their lifestyle
  • Fearing they will catch COVID-19, many heart-attack and stroke sufferers are wrongly avoiding hospital visits

DUBAI: Observed each year on Sept. 29, World Heart Day was created to make people aware that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the planet’s leading cause of death.

This year, with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) killing more than 91,224 people worldwide so far, the message that people should take responsibility for their heart health has greater meaning than ever before.

According to the World Heart Federation, which launched World Heart Day in 2000, CVD, including heart disease and stroke, is the world’s number-one killer, claiming more than 17.9 million lives each year.

Of these deaths, 80 percent are caused by coronary heart diseases (heart attacks) and cerebrovascular diseases (strokes), mostly affecting people in low and middle-income countries. These diseases also account for nearly half of all deaths by non-communicable diseases (NCD).

Across the Arab region, neglect of heart health is cause for growing concern.




Indian nursing students hold placards on the occasion of World Heart Day during a public awareness event in Amritsar. (AFP)

Poor dietary habits and environmental conditions in fast-growing urban settings mean that even children in the Arab Gulf region are at higher risk of developing CVDs than those in other Arab states.

Take Saudi Arabia, for example. About 5 to 6 percent of the population suffer from CVD, with diabetes and hypertension considered the most common risk factors, according to Dr. Mohammed Balghith, associate professor at King Saud bin Abdul Aziz University for Health Sciences and interventional cardiologist at the National Guard Hospital.

“Many people live a sedentary lifestyle, which means that smoking, obesity and hyperlipidaemia (high levels of cholesterol) are major contributors for people at high cardiovascular risk,” Balghith told Arab News.

The World Health Organization estimates that 54 percent of deaths from NCDs in the Eastern Mediterranean region are caused by CVDs. It attributes the prevalence of such diseases to diabetes, hypertension and the alarming rise of obesity in the GCC, especially among children.

These numbers are even more worrying when one considers the potential long and short-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart, brain and lungs.

Although many claims about the disease still lack definitive proof, multiple studies have concluded that people with CVDs are more vulnerable to developing severe forms of COVID-19.

“One of the unintended consequences of COVID-19 is that people suffering heart attacks and strokes delay seeking medical help in Saudi Arabia,” said Balghith.




Dr. Mohammed Balghith, associate professor at King Saud bin Abdul Aziz University for Health Sciences and interventional cardiologist at the National Guard Hospital.

“We have noticed a decrease in the number of patients with CVDs during the current pandemic as a result of the lockdowns and because so many patients are afraid of visiting the hospital during this time. This is very alarming because delaying medical help can result in even worse outcomes.”

Cardiac death is largely preventable if an individual experiencing a heart attack is taken to hospital in time for treatment, said Balghith.

“It is truly disheartening to see this … especially since the risk of death from an untreated heart attack is 10 times higher than from COVID-19,” he added.

This trend leads to “an unnecessary loss of life,” he said, while urging heart patients in Saudi Arabia to visit their local hospital, where the risk of COVID-19 infection has been minimized for heart attack and stroke patients.




Air pollution and smoking remain major predictors of an increase in early cardiovascular diseases worldwide. (AFP)

However, despite increased efforts to spread awareness about the nature of heart diseases during the pandemic, many people are skipping voluntary visits to the hospital.

To be certain, research on the effects of COVID-19 on the heart is still a work in progress.

“Data is still early but studies have shown that three-fourths of people infected with COVID-19 have residual changes on cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, even though they may have been minimally symptomatic,” Dr. Stephen Kopecky, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, told Arab News.

While the long-term impacts of COVID-19 remain “unknown,” Kopecky said the virus could manifest in the heart by causing myocarditis (injury to muscles tissues of the heart), pericarditis and decreased left ventricular systolic function, with arrhythmia identified as a secondary effect.

“The primary effects of COVID-19 are on the lungs, but due to hypoxia (a lack of oxygen), the heart is stressed, and Type 2 myocardial infarctions can occur,” he said.

The good news is that COVID-19 is not guaranteed to cause heart conditions in all recovering patients.

In fact, with the exception of specific cases where patients are susceptible to heart problems caused by common risk factors or genetics, heart health is largely dependent on lifestyle.

“Lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle,” said Kopecky, emphasizing the importance of diet and exercise in healthy living.

“The first contributor to heart disease is diet. Intake of processed foods has increased over the past two decades,” he said, pointing in particular to processed fats and carbohydrates.

The second main contributor to cardiovascular disease is a lack of physical activity, with many jobs outside the home likely to be sedentary with increased screen time and little or no vigorous activity, he said.




Dr. Stephen Kopecky, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic.

Moreover, air pollution and smoking remain major predictors of an increase in early cardiovascular diseases worldwide, despite a slight reduction in cigarette use reported in economically advanced countries.

“Diet and physical activity, avoidance of smoking, and maintenance of normal weight is key to maintaining a healthy heart. Also, stress reduction, adequate sleep and limited alcohol intake is extremely helpful,” Kopecky said.

His advice on World Heart Day coincides with a wider global campaign called #UseHeart, launched to encourage individuals, families, communities and governments to participate in activities that help them take charge of their heart health and spread awareness.

The campaign also supports the unified pledge made by world leaders in 2012 to reduce global mortality from NCDs by 25 percent before 2025.

Non-communicable diseases that lead to cardiovascular disease include obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia.

The campaign’s message is particularly crucial in developing countries, where the prevalence of CVDs is growing.

Kopecky said that heart attacks often afflict those active in the workforce, mostly those under the age of 65.

“In economically advanced countries such as the US, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease has remained about the same. But in the last five years, the incidence of cardiovascular events has actually increased somewhat, and lifespan has decreased compared with what was happening previously,” he said, referring to the reduction in CVD events over the last 50 years.

Additionally, Kopecky said that CVDs generally manifest 10 years earlier in men than in women, often affecting men in their late 50s to early 60s, and women in their late 60s to early 70s.

Yet, regardless of gender, age and environment, at least 80 percent of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke can be avoided.

All things considered, healthcare experts insist it is down to individuals making the right lifestyle choices when it comes to what they eat, how often they exercise, and whether they smoke.

• Twitter: @jumana_khamis
 


After steering clear of the pandemic, Saudi food trucks have the recipe for success

After steering clear of the pandemic, Saudi food trucks have the recipe for success
During the COVID-19 crisis, the owner of Daddy’s Grill food truck decided to seize the opportunity by expanding into new neighborhoods. (Supplied)
Updated 21 June 2021

After steering clear of the pandemic, Saudi food trucks have the recipe for success

After steering clear of the pandemic, Saudi food trucks have the recipe for success
  • ‘Kitchens on wheels’ are increasingly popular; their high mobility means they are well-placed to thrive in a post-COVID era

JEDDAH: Food trucks, or “kitchens on wheels,” have been a growing culinary trend in many countries in recent years and Saudi Arabia is no exception. They are now familiar sights on streets, at beaches, at malls, in parks and other open spaces — in short, anywhere they can park.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, the mobility and flexibility of food trucks meant they were relatively well-placed to survive the crisis by offering an alternative to indoor dining, catering to people who miss the experience of a sit-down meal but want a better alternative than a traditional takeaway or home delivery.
As many businesses focused on finding new revenue streams during the health crisis, Taha Ashi, the owner of Daddy’s Grill food truck, which specializes in burgers, decided to seize the opportunity during the uncertain times by expanding into new neighborhoods. He owns three food trucks in Jeddah and plans to launch a restaurant this year.
Before the pandemic, he said he was serving an average of about 100 customers a day but that sales and profits fluctuated. During the pandemic, he added, sales have increased by about 20 percent.


“Food trucks are well-equipped to withstand pandemic restrictions, as they are naturally to-go and socially distanced businesses,” Ashi told Arab News.
“I focused on ways to maintain my customer base by, for example, connecting with the online delivery services and cultivating a social-media presence. All of that added up to a significant increase in sales.”
In 2016, he was one of the first people in Saudi Arabia to launch a food truck, which has much lower overhead costs than a traditional restaurant. Therefore, for anyone interested in getting into the catering business, especially in the coronavirus era, Ashi believes the food truck sector is a good option, not least because it is supported by the government. In some areas, for example, there are no charges for electricity or rent, which helps to keep costs down.

Truck business
Not all food truck businesses have coped with the pandemic quite as well as Ashi’s have, however. Abdul Aziz Al-Fadel — who owns the X Bite food truck, which also serves burgers, and a restaurant — said many small businesses have suffered in the past year and food trucks are no exception.
He told Arab News his business has had a rough time as a result of reduced trade, but that the challenges have pushed owners of catering businesses to become more innovative and creative in finding ways to connect with customers.

Food trucks are well-equipped to withstand pandemic restrictions, as they are naturally to-go and socially distanced businesses.

Taha Ashi, Owner of Daddy’s Grill food truck

“The sudden evaporation of events, concerts, festivals and gatherings left us confused,” said Al-Fadel. “Sales plunged by 60 to 70 percent.”
As the pandemic wore on, however, he said he began to adapt. He took advantage of the mobile nature of his business and visited more areas, took orders online and signed up with delivery services. He also launched a BBQ kit to the menu, which provides all the ingredients needed to cook authentic X Bite burgers at home. It proved to be a big hit and helped to boost sales.
A food truck is a less risky way to get started in the catering business than opening a traditional bricks-and-mortar cafe or restaurant, said Al-Fadel.
“After running a successful food truck our business grew and we launched a restaurant,” he explained. “A food truck business is cheaper to run and doesn’t need many people in the beginning to operate, so there is no worry about making payroll.”
He also had some advice for anyone interesting in launching their own truck. They must always maintain the highest standards of safety, he said, and need to be prepared to withstand challenges and adapt to adverse conditions.
“Most importantly, this business is seasonal,” he added. “During the summers the business is harsh, and in winter the sales go up. So the prospective owners need to experiment with new ideas that can help them continue to generate revenue.”
The potential rewards of building a popular food truck business are great and include, as the experiences of Ashi and Al-Fadel show, the possibility of expanding by opening a traditional restaurant. For others, the focus for now remains on their kitchens on wheels.
Ahmed Al-Hijri, who owns the CheeseSteak food truck, told Arab News that his business survived the pandemic because he worked long hours and embraced the use of delivery apps and social media to better engage with customers.
“We were actually able to net enough (income) to keep the business moving forward,” he said.
Because they require less capital investment and involve less financial risk, Al-Hijri added, food trucks offer a fantastic opportunity to enter a market that previously presented prospective entrepreneurs with much greater barriers.
As a result, he said, they can establish their brand on a smaller scale before attempting to grow and expand the business by opening a restaurant or franchising the trucks.


International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia
Updated 18 June 2021

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

In honor of International Sushi Day celebrated on June 18, here are six sushi spots to try in Saudi Arabia, rounded up by Arab News Japan.  

Chez Sushi

This modern and casual restaurant on Prince Saud Al-Faisal Road in Jeddah feature custom dishes such as a Japanese burrito and attractive lunch offers.

Oishii Sushi

Owner Khulood Olaqi turned this home-based online store into a fully-fledged restaurant where she is both a chef and manager. Cozy, warm and welcoming, Oishii Sushi is located in Riyadh.

Sushi Centro

Promising sushi that is “rolled to perfection,” the restaurant also provides traditional Japanese food that is rich in flavor and flair. Sushi Centro has two branches in Saudi Arabia, one in Jeddah in Centro Shaheen Hotel, and the other in Riyadh’s Centro Waha Hotel.

Nozomi

Nozomi’s menu is internationally renowned and award-winning, offering an unrivaled fine-dining experience on Riyadh’s Dabab Street.

Wakame

A hip restaurant that plays host to business meetings, gossip and fast-paced service at a dimly lit sushi bar, Wakame has three branches in Jeddah: In Ar Rawdah district, in Obhur and on Al-Malik Road.

Sushi Yoshi

A franchise with branches in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar where guests can enjoy anime with their sushi. 


Paws for thought: Inside Riyadh’s first cat café

Paws for thought: Inside Riyadh’s first cat café
Updated 18 June 2021

Paws for thought: Inside Riyadh’s first cat café

Paws for thought: Inside Riyadh’s first cat café
  • Arab News visits the recently opened Cup & Cat Café in As-Sahafah

RIYADH: The cat café phenomenon — which began in Taiwan more than 20 years ago — has finally reached the Saudi capital.

The Cup & Cat Café is located in Riyadh’s As-Sahafah district. When we visited, we saw people of all ages coming to enjoy the cats, from university students studying on their laptops, to small toddlers running around petting their furry friends.

It is designed to be a calming place — from the relaxing music to the light, neutral colors of the walls and furniture. all of which immediately puts visitors at ease.

The Cup & Cat Café is located in Riyadh’s As-Sahafah district. (Supplied)

On the ground floor of the two-story establishment are booths and seating areas for guests, along with a coffee bar. The café offers a fairly standard selection of drinks, including coffees and blended beverages such as chocolate milkshakes and cold mojitos. There are also snacks on offer, including French fries, cakes and pastries.

The food is fine, but nothing to get excited about. But, let’s face it, no one’s visiting a cat café because they want to get a great meal. Instead, they’re going to grab their drinks and head up the stairs (or take the elevator) to the second story, where the main attractions await.

The cats’ ‘home base’ is sectioned off by a gate and is, happily, extremely well-maintained. There are plenty of resting areas for the cats, and even a separate ‘quiet room’ with glass walls where visitors can sit in a calm space with the animal(s) of their choice.

There are plenty of resting areas for the cats, and even a separate ‘quiet room’ with glass walls where visitors can sit in a calm space with the animal(s) of their choice. (Supplied)

It’s worth mentioning that there are currently only three cats in the café, however, but the baristas did mention that they plan to expand and add more in the near future.

Potential visitors will likely have some concerns over hygiene and smells, but this was honestly one of the cleanest cafés we have visited in Riyadh; every surface was immaculate and there are sanitizer stations placed throughout along with a chart of procedures on every table to ensure the cats are being handled in a safe, hygienic manner that is enjoyable for both humans and animals. This is an all-ages café, and such advice is particularly important for young children who wish to handle the cats.

The whole place is very family-friendly, with a children’s section upstairs equipped with a selection of books, a TV, and several small cat toys. (Supplied)

The Cup & Cat Café is actually a great place for kids to learn about interacting safely with animals and to learn more about pets’ needs. The whole place is very family-friendly, with a children’s section upstairs equipped with a selection of books, a TV, and several small cat toys.

But it’s also a good place to just hang out with some friends (it’s open until 2 a.m.) or to get on with some work, especially when it first opens at 4 p.m. It’s a quiet location with free wi-fi, so you can bring along your laptop, find a secluded corner and get to work — possibly with a cat on your lap.

Overall, our visit was a very therapeutic experience. It’s hard to feel stressed with a purring kitty next to you, and it seemed that the animals themselves were happy with the situation too — they were all very friendly with guests, allowing themselves to be petted and fussed over. Expect to see the Cup & Cat Café making plenty of appearances on social media over the summer.


What We Are Eating Today: Carnivore kitchen

What We Are Eating Today: Carnivore kitchen
Updated 18 June 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Carnivore kitchen

What We Are Eating Today: Carnivore kitchen

Carnivore Kitchen is a Saudi local brand specializing in smoked food.

The business was originally established as a home venture by friends Sari Al-Harbi and Elyassin Al-Bukhari but has grown in line with its popularity among meat eaters.

Offering smoked meats, vegetables, and nuts with a Saudi twist, customers can pick from a range of cuts including chicken, full lamb with vegetables, and smoked najel fish.

Equipment capable of smoking up to 200 kilograms of meat per week produces tender and moist brisket that has been cooked for more than 18 hours, and the company’s lamb products are made over 12 hours using the same seasonings and smoking techniques as for American brisket. For more information, check Instagram @carnivore.k


Where We Are Going Today: Buttermilk

Where We Are Going Today: Buttermilk
Updated 11 June 2021

Where We Are Going Today: Buttermilk

Where We Are Going Today: Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a restaurant and bakery in the Al-Nakheel district of Riyadh serving classic American food.

It is inspired by southern cuisine and its hospitality, offering an array of traditional choices, from American pie, cornbread and mac & cheese to the famous Nashville chicken. That dish is presented with a country-style twist —a big portion of fried chicken and bread served in a basket.

Buttermilk’s signature order is the Harlem classic, buttermilk-fried chicken and waffle with honey and hot sauce on top of it. The delicious combination of sweet and salty with the crispness on the outside and the lightness of the waffle make it one of the best brunches you could ever taste.

Buttermilk is the go-to place for celebrations, as its relaxed and comfortable ambiance will suit your special occasions.

If you are into fine smoked ribs, you can choose your favorite style from the range on offer and enjoy a tender piece of beef covered with barbecue sauce. They also offer many types of steaks.