The heart is a vital organ that pumps blood through the circulatory system, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues whilst removing carbon dioxide and other waste. Main arteries that are blocked can damage the heart muscle or can lead to a heart attack. It is becoming normal practice for doctors to suggest that all adults arrange a heart health check once a year that takes a record of blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar level and weight.
These simple but effective changes to your lifestyle can improve heart health.
According to the British Heart Foundation, ‘stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to protect the health of your heart’. Smoking is one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease and makes you twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with those who have never smoked. Smoking also damages the lining of your arteries that leads to a fatty build up, leaving them narrowed or blocked—this can result in stroke or heart attack. Similarly, the carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood that means that your heart needs to work harder to supply the body with the oxygen it needs. There are dozens of methods for quitting smoking, one of the most effective methods is Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT); this weaning method provides you with low doses of nicotine without the tar. Alternatively, there are nicotine patches or inhalers to keep your fingers busy and away from cigarettes.
Too much cholesterol in the blood builds up in the walls of the arteries, triggering a process called atherosclerosis—a form of heart disease. There are no visible symptoms of high cholesterol levels which is why it is important to have them checked regularly by your doctor. You are likely to see a decrease in cholesterol levels if you reduce your saturated fat intake. Saturated fats are most commonly found in red meats and dairy products. There are now various spreads and yoghurts on the market that are specifically designed to reduce cholesterol levels; these usually include plant sterols and stanols.
The NHS recommends doing two types of exercise per week for adults between the ages of 19 and 64: aerobic and strength exercises. The amount of exercise they recommend depends on the age bracket you fall within; however, the general consensus is to do at least 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise like walking or cycling. The NHS advises doing a good amount of strength exercises that work all the major muscle groups—like the hips, shoulders, legs, chest, back, abdomen and arms—at least two days a week. Although many people find the idea of starting exercise or a new sport quite daunting, there are multiple ways to ease yourself into it. Consider joining a beginners running club or a walking group; both are a great way to socialise and meet new people whilst keeping fit.
Balance your diet
Consuming a healthy and balanced diet has uncountable benefits for your heart, not to mention other parts of your body. The main messages outlined by the British Nutrition Foundation’s Eatwell Guide are:
- To eat a variety of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- To consume meals that include all food groups including: carbohydrates, dairy or dairy alternatives and proteins.
- To only eat unsaturated fats and oils in very small amounts, if at all.
- Drink six to eight cups of fluid a day, limiting the amount of sugary drinks you have.
Painkillers have recently been linked to increased risk of heart attack as reported in The BMJ. Although the results of this study aren’t conclusive and the risks appear to be relatively small, it is recommended to limit your intake of painkillers. We suggest only taking them when absolutely necessary and not to rely on them for pain relief for long periods of time. Common forms of pain relief like aspirin and ibuprofen are specifically not recommended for those who are already diagnosed with heart disease—they can make the body hold onto extra fluids which may raise blood pressure and leave the body more susceptible to stroke.