Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the UK’s biggest killer, but there’s plenty you can do to get a healthy heart.
From upping your salad intake to cutting out salt, there are plenty of diet tips – plus easy lifestyle advice – you can follow to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Foods to help fight heart disease
Aim for plenty of fruits and vegetables, wholegrain bread, pasta and rice, some milk and dairy products, and meat, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein.
Studies by the universities of Minnesota and North Carolina found every additional serving of wholegrains eaten can reduce heart attack risk by 7 per cent.
Reduce your saturated fats
Cut right down on sat fats, which can raise your cholesterol, and replace with small amounts of mono and polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower oil, and oily fish like sardines and salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish have been shown to help improve your heart health.
Cut down on salt
Limit your salt intake, as too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. We shouldn’t have more than 6g a day, but salt is often listed as ‘sodium’ listed on food labels. To convert this into salt, multiply the measurement on the label by 2.5.
Try going vegetarian
Research published in the American Journal of Nutrition found veggies were 32 per cent less likely to die or need hospital treatment as a result of heart disease. It’s thought lower levels of saturated animal fats in their diets give them the edge.
Reduce your portions
Being overweight is associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – key risk factors for heart disease.
Fat cells in the body also produce chemicals called interleukins and leptins that increase the stickiness of the blood, making it more likely to clot. Losing weight can help switch these ‘bad’ hormones off.
Extra tips to beat heart disease
Giving up smoking is the single most important thing you can do to get a healthy heart. Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack than people who have never smoked. A recent Canadian study found those who quit before 40 live almost as long as those who’ve never smoked.
Take regular exercise
Staying active will not only help you keep the weight off, it stimulates enzymes that help move ‘bad’ cholesterol to your liver for processing.
Your heart is also a muscle and needs exercise to help it keep fit, so it can pump blood efficiently around your body. Build up to 150minutes of activity a week.
Evidence shows married men have better heart health than their single friends, and now Finnish researchers say marriage is good for women too. The social support between a couple – encouraging each other to take medication or call for help when needed – helps keep hearts healthy.
Cut your stress levels
Numerous studies, including the Whitehall Study of over 10,000 civil servants, found workplace stress – particularly if you don’t feel in control of your workload – is bad for your heart. Find some stress-management techniques to help you unwind.
Consider some supplements
There is some evidence that coenzyme Q10 may help patients with high blood pressure, while those with low levels of vitamin D may be more at risk of heart disease.
Resveratrol, found in small amounts of red wine, may help blood flow through the heart more easily, improving cardiovascular health.
Get the right amount of sleep
A meta-analysis in the European Heart Journal found both those who got less than five to six hours, or more than eight to nine hours, of sleep each night had an increased risk of heart disease.
The prime time for golden slumbers is seven to eight hours. Struggling to nod off? We’ve found the insomnia cures that guarantee a good night’s sleep.
If you’re concerned about heart health, get more advice in our dedicated section.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies