Heart health is linked to multiple life threatening conditions and figures show that cardiovascular disease is responsible for one in four deaths in the UK. However there are ways to reduce risk and, in certain cases, even prevent heart related conditions just through making some conscious changes to our lifestyle. We have spoken to Consultant Cardiologist Dr Money-Kyrle at BMI The Chiltern Hospital to find out his top tips for maintaining a healthy heart
As well as reducing the risk of strokes and cancer, giving up smoking (or, even better, not starting in the first place) will drastically reduce your risk of heart disease. It not new news to anyone that smoking is bad for our health and there are three main ways that smoking harms your heart:
• Nicotine - This makes the heart beat faster, putting it under extra strain
• Carbon Monoxide - when inhaled, this gas reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry, therefore increasing your heart’s exertion
• Fatty deposits – these start to build up in the arteries of regular smokers and can lead to blockages that cause heart disease.
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet will improve your overall health and that of your heart. The following foods are just some that are thought to be good for your heart:
• Fatty fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are all high in omega-3 fats, they are also linked to cardiac health.
• Fresh fruit such as blueberries are linked to healthy blood vessels and reduced inflammation of artery walls
• Fresh vegetables and legumes, such as lentils and black beans, are high in soluble fibre.
As well as increasing the healthier foods, long-term heart health also means reducing the less healthy ones. It is advisable to cut down on both saturated fat and sugar as saturated fat can build up in the arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack. As for sugar, excessive consumption is linked to weight gain and diabetes, which could double your risk of heart disease. Losing weight has been shown in several studies to reduce or even reverse the development of type 2 diabetes.
Moderate your alcohol intake
A high alcohol intake has been linked to a condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy where the heart function is reduced causing heart failure and breathlessness. Added to this, regularly going over the recommended limits for alcohol could lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can cause heart disease and atrial fibrillation.
Prolonged, excessive alcohol consumption can also be linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which increase the risk factor of developing heart disease.
The UK recommendation for alcohol is to not exceed 14 units on a weekly basis. As a guideline, 14 units equates to 6 pints of 4% beer, or 6 175ml glasses of 13% wine.
Regular exercise is linked to a healthy heart by helping to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. For adults aged 18-64, the World Health Organisation recommends between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week (or 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise), as well as strength training - such as weight lifting - twice a week. As well as being a good thing for your heart in and of itself, regular exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress, which brings us to my final tip.
Reduce your stress levels
High blood pressure, often caused by stress, is a major cause of heart disease and so it is no surprise that a good way to reduce your blood pressure and improve overall heart health is to reduce your stress levels.
Recommended ways of reducing stress include: taking regular walks, listening to music, or activities such as yoga, sports and meditation.