Having a healthy heart can help you live a long and vibrant life. Each year approximately 160,000 people1 in the UK die from heart and circulatory disease, making it the number one killer. Every seven minutes someone suffers from a heart attack and every twelve minutes someone has a stroke. These are scary statistics.
If you want to try and reduce your chances of suffering from a heart condition in the near or distant future, there are a number of things you can do, as we’ll explain in this guide.
What impacts on your heart’s health?
Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO)2 shows that 3 in 5 cardiovascular deaths and more than three quarters of coronary heart disease deaths are caused by the seven lifestyle factors outlined below:
High blood pressure
It’s believed that around one in three adults3 (16 million) have high blood pressure in the UK. Only half are receiving treatment and many will be unaware that their blood pressure is high, which is why it’s often referred to as the “silent killer.” People often only find out when their GP checks their blood pressure routinely or if they suffer a stroke or heart attack.
It’s recommended that you have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you do find that you have high blood pressure, you should look at ways you can bring it down to a normal level as having high blood pressure puts a strain on your blood vessels and can lead to blood clots and heart failure.
Obesity (high body mass index)
1 in 4 adults in the UK are obese and 3 in 5 are either obese or overweight, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre4. If you have a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 29, you’re officially classed as overweight and if your BMI is 30 or above, you’re classed as obese.
Being obese or overweight and carrying extra weight around your middle can increase your chances of having heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. It can also shorten your life expectancy. If you want to lower your BMI, try to exercise more and eat a balanced, healthy diet.
Cholesterol is produced in your liver and found in foods like cheese, bacon, eggs and fish. It’s used to build cells, make bile, vitamin D and hormones. Your body needs cholesterol to function properly but having too much is bad for you. It can clog up your arteries, slow down blood flow to your heart, which can result in chest pains, and if there’s a blockage, you could have a heart attack.
Not sure whether you have high cholesterol or not? Book an appointment to get your cholesterol level checked by your GP or pharmacist. If you do have high cholesterol, you should cut down on the amount of saturated fats and refined sugar in your diet.
Drinking excess alcohol
If you drink more than the recommended units of alcohol per week, this can weaken your heart muscles, resulting in your heart having to work harder to pump blood around your body and can lead to heart failure. Binge drinking can also make your heart beat irregularly and cause you to have high blood pressure. If you need to cut down and want some help and support, speak to your GP.
If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your heart is quit. Smoking causes atheroma to build up in your arteries which restricts the blood flow and increases your chances of having a blood clot. It reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood so your heart has to work harder and the nicotine in cigarettes raises your blood pressure, making your heart beat faster.
Smokers have almost double the chances5 of suffering a heart attack than non-smokers and be at higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Whether you’ve been smoking for five years or fifty years, giving up can improve your heart health drastically.
According to a BBC Food survey6 of 10,000 people, almost three quarters of the UK population are failing to eat their five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. If you’re not eating enough fruit and vegetables, then your body will be missing out on vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy heart and body.
To maintain a healthy heart you need to eat a balanced diet, so beware of missing out whole food groups. As well as fruit and vegetables, you should eat the right kind of fats (mono and polyunsaturated fats) and plenty of starch-rich foods like pasta, bread and rice. Milk, dairy and protein are also essential but you can cut down on sugary foods and drinks.
Food that are good for your heart include:
- Fish that is rich in omega-3 (such as tuna, mackerel or salmon)
- Flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries)
- Broccoli, asparagus and beetroot
- Olive oil
- Dark chocolate
You may want to consider taking supplements to make sure your body is getting what it needs every day.
The NHS recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week and strength exercises at least twice a week. Your heart is an organ made from muscle, so not exercising will leave it weak. Being active can improve your circulation, reduce your chances of having a blood clot and lower your blood pressure.
Hopefully this guide will have inspired you to take a closer look at your current lifestyle and have encouraged you to make some small changes that will improve the overall health of your heart.
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