We know that love and kindness are good for your heart, but they aren't enough to keep it healthy. Our lifestyle choices play a huge role in the health of our organs, including your heart. According to a recent report from the British Heart Foundation (BHF), 7.6 million people in the UK are living with heart and circulatory diseases and sadly this causes more than a quarter (27%) of all UK deaths per year.
By making small changes to your lifestyle and following some heart health care tips, you can reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Here are 8 simple steps to be on your way to achieving a healthy heart:
Smoking and tobacco consumption are one of the biggest reasons for coronary heart disease as it causes major harm to the heart and blood vessels. Smoking causes a rise in adrenaline, which raises blood pressure and causes constriction of the blood vessels. It also makes the walls of the arteries sticky from the chemicals released from smoking cigarettes, so fatty material can stick to them. When arteries carrying blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, such as that from smoking, it can lead to a heart attack.
We all know that regular exercise has huge benefits on our physical appearance, however exercise delves a lot deeper than looking good in a new pair of jeans. Regular exercise can do a lot for heart health:
It strengthens your cardiovascular system
It improves blood circulation in your body
It increase your body's endurance
In order to have a 'fit' heart, it is advised to have a moderate aerobic session lasting at least 30 minutes, 4-5 times per week. This can including things such as; walking, running, cycling and swimming.
TIP: Devise an exercise plan - this will help to keep you on track and motivated.
Eat a Healthy Diet
A good diet is is one of the top controllable factors to heart disease. A good diet consists of balance, you don't have to be restrictive, just sensible and giving your body what it needs. Here are some tips to have a balanced 'diet':
Measure how much you eat: Portion control is just as important as what you actually put into your body. Overeating can lead to excess calorie intake which will make you put on weight and could be harmful to your heart. There are really good apps that you can use to track your calories such as 'nutra check' and 'lose it'.
Eat your fruit and vegetables: They are rich in dietary fibre and contain substances which help prevent heart disease.
Choose whole grains: Whole grains are high in fibre and help to regulate blood pressure and do not cause a spike in blood glucose like refined grain products.
Pick healthy fats: Unsaturated fats help to increase the 'good' cholesterol in our body (HDL). HDLs lower the amount of 'bad' cholesterol (LDL) in our body which helps to prevent plaque build up in our arteries. The best sources of 'good' fat are; fish, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, eggs and avocado.
Limit your sugar intake: Sugar intake is directly linked to intake of calories, and as mentioned earlier, an excess calorie intake can be harmful to your heart. Sugar is added to 75% of processed foods, so try and use fresh products when making your meals.
Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Regular alcohol consumption can raise your blood pressure and body weight. Over time high blood pressure (hypertension) puts strain on the heart muscle and can lead to cardiovascular disease, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Reduce Stress Levels
Everyone deals with different types and extent of stress on a daily basis. Not only your mental health, but your heart health is also affected by this constant and excessive stress. It is advisable to try and manage your stress levels by practising things like meditation, breathing exercises and listening to healing music.
Monitor Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Both high blood pressure and cholesterol are harmful as far as heart health is concerned. It is important to track and monitor these two elements so you can make necessary changes to your lifestyle. Whilst these things may not cause problems in everyday functioning, over a extended period of time, they can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
Sleep is the time that the body rests and repairs itself. A quality, undisturbed sleep is necessary to maintaining a healthy heart. It is recommended to aim for 7-8 hours of good sleep per night.
Reduce Salt Intake
High salt leads to high blood pressure which, as you have read, leads to high blood pressure. Make sure you check your food labels to see their salt content - this is also important in tracking fat content as well.
Take Home Message
It can be overwhelming to make all of these changes at once. Therefore, start slow and change your lifestyle gradually. Start by cutting down by one cigarette a day, by one glass of wine per day or integrating a portion of fruit and/or veg into your diet. Once you adapt to the smaller changes and with motivation and dedication to your health, you can start making bigger changes to improve your quality of life.