Love your heart this Heart Month; 4 top tips to protecting your heart

Keep your heart ticking along nicely by following these top tips

Of all the areas of your body that you should be looking after, your heart is up there with the most important. You may not realise it, but your lifestyle could slowly be damaging your heart and may be affecting your good heart health in the future.

To coincide with this year’s Heart Month during February, here are some must-read tips for looking after your heart.

Healthy food

1. Bin the junk food

A quick lesson in unhealthy eating: junk food increases your intake of bad cholesterol, and bad cholesterol can cause fatty deposits to build up on the walls of your arteries1. This can lead to coronary heart disease - a blocking of the coronary arteries, which is often responsible for a stroke or heart attack2. Put simply, by reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet, you can cut the risk of heart disease. This means limiting foods that contain butter, such as pies and cakes, as well as steering clear of too many sausages and bacon and meals containing cheese and cream3. You may find yourself looking at that list and licking your lips, but the damage these foods can cause isn’t so savoury.

2. Put down the cigarettes

Quitting smoking should be top of your list if you are serious about looking after your heart. The habit increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, alongside strokes and cancer4. Like a poor diet, smoking leads to a build-up of a fatty material in the arteries, which you now know causes coronary heart disease. On top of this, the carbon monoxide you inhale reduces the amount of oxygen that is carried in your blood, meaning the heart needs to work harder. The nicotine found in cigarettes also causes the heart to beat faster, placing unnecessary strain on the organ.

Stopping smoking isn’t always easy, but it is possible. E-cigarettes are growing in popularity among smokers wanting to wean themselves off the real thing, while nicotine gum and patches can also help to curb cravings.

Running shoes

3. Lace up your running shoes

Exercise is key to keeping your heart healthy for more reasons than you may realise. Controlling your weight is the most obvious reason. Research has shown that being overweight can increase blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which are both prominent coronary heart disease risk factors5. Talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional to find out your healthiest weight and combine regular exercise with a healthy diet to reach and maintain it. For adults aged between 18 and 64, the World Health Organisation recommends:

“150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or…at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate-and vigorous-intensity activity”6.

The other positive impact exercise has is on your mental wellbeing. Keeping active can help to combat the mental stress7 that sometimes leads to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking or a poor diet.

You can also read our recommendations on how much exercise you should be doing here.

4. Watch your alcohol intake

We’re not saying you should avoid alcohol altogether to keep your heart in shape, but think about how much you drink and whether this is a healthy amount. High blood pressure is a long term effect of drinking above the recommended daily alcohol limit, but alcohol also weakens the heart muscle so it can’t pump blood as effectively8. The UK government recommends that men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units per week, and that it is best to spread this limit out over the week. To better understand the limit, this is what 14 units of your favourite tipple looks like:

  • Six 175ml glasses of 13 percent wine
  • Six pints of four percent beer
  • 14 25ml measures of 40 percent spirits9

Looking after your heart is vital to your overall wellbeing. If you are concerned about the health of your heart or blood vessels, we recommend speaking to a cardiologist who can help with testing, treatment and more. We also offer private health assessments that look at your blood pressure, cholesterol profile and cardiovascular risk to help detect issues at an early stage.

To book your consultation call us on 0800 101 0337.

[Sources]
1 https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/risk-factors/high-cholesterol
2 http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/cad
3 http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Eat-less-saturated-fat.aspx
4 https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/risk-factors/smoking
5 https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/risk-factors/your-weight-and-heart-disease
6 http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/
7 http://www.stress.org.uk/exercise.aspx
8 http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/effects-on-the-body/heart-disease
9 https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/what-is-alcohol/new-government-alcohol-unit-guidelines#guidelines

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