In the UK we have a bit of a ‘head in the sand’ attitude when it comes to looking after our hearts. According to a recent survey, almost two thirds of adults (59%) admitted that they don’t do anything to look after the health of their heart – with a quarter (25%) saying they would rather not think about it and one in ten (11%) saying they are just too busy. Does that sound familiar? “With your heart it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘out of sight out of mind’ ” Alison Freemantle, heart health expert at Lloydspharmacy, explains. “People are more likely to focus on health issues they can see or that have more obvious symptoms.” The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to help maintain a healthy heart and avoid heart disease.
1. Weigh it up
If you are overweight, your chances of developing heart disease are increased. It’s worth remembering that losing weight and reducing your BMI (Body Mass Index) will also help to reduce your chances of developing other conditions. Cutting out fatty, sugary foods and ditching unhealthy takeaways is a good place to start.
2. Get your five a day
If five portions of fruit and vegetables seems more than you’d usually eat, work gradually tu to that amount by making small changes. Add dried fruit to cereal in the morning and put extra veg in pasta sauces. The kids won’t complain as much either!
3. Up your omegas
Omega-3 fats can help protect against heart disease – find them in oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna and salmon. Try and eat this kind of fish a couple of times a week.
4. Off you go
Getting active doesn’t mean you have to start training for a marathon. Just try and fit in 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week. If that seems like a lot, think of it as 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, then a couple of days off – and if you can spare the time every day of the week , so much the better!
5. Stub it out
Giving up smoking is tough , so talk to your GP about ways that might make it easier. It’s worth noting that although smoking is one of the main causes of coronary heart disease, just a year after kicking the habit your risk of heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker.
6. Count your units
The government advises that people should not regularly drink more than the daily unit guidlines of 3-4 units of alcohol for men and 2-3 units of alcohol for women. Remember, alcohol is not just demaging to your health – and it can also make you put on weight.
7. Ditch the salt
Too much salt in your diet can raise your blood pressure, so try and stop using salt at the table and add less to food when you’re cooking. Switching to spices and adding a bit of extra pepper will keep the flavour! Look out for high salt levels in processed foods too.
8. Manage your stress
In times of stress, you might find you don’t eat properly, or turn to alcohol and cigarettes. Try to manage your stress more productively – take exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk, and try taking time out to meditate or practise yoga, both of which can help to lower levels too.
9. Check your family history
Do you have a close relative who is at risk of developing coronary heart disease, or who has already developed it? Heart disease can run in the family so keep a close check on yourself and take care to notice any symptoms.
10. Watch out for saturated fat
It’s simple to make small changes to your diet that can have a positive effect on the health of your heart. Reduce your intake of saturated fat and switch to semi-skimmed instead of full-fat milk, try leaner cuts of meat (or opt for fish), and steam or grill food rather than frying them.
Know the signs
It’s really important to be able to recognise the early signs of coronary heart disease:
- Tightness or pain in the chest (angina)
- Discomfort or pain in the neck, jaw, arm or stomach
- Pain or discomfort which comes on when you exert yourself but goes away with rest
- Palpitations and unusual breathlessness