Ah, it’s love day, and whilst most people are celebrating their love hearts, it’s also important to remember the importance of having a healthy heart, as heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer! All is not gloom and doom however, as there’s SO much you can do to prevent it.
Start here with my top 10 tips for a happy, healthy, heart!
1. Quit smoking
Smoking is most associated with an increased risk of cancer, however did you know that smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack than non smokers? There’s so much support out there with patches, e-cigarettes and the smoking ban that there’s never been an easier time to quit.
2. Watch your weight
Obesity and heart disease go hand-in-hand, and being overweight increases your risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure.
Avoid foods that are high in sugar and fat like processed foods, cakes and biscuits, and increase your intake of oily fish, brightly coloured and green leafy vegetables.
On the flip side, just because you are of a ‘healthy’ weight, doesn’t mean you’re not at risk – you can still have high cholesterol levels and be at risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.
3. Reduce your alcohol intake
Excessive alcohol intake = raised blood pressure = heart attack/stroke. Alcohol can damage the heart muscle and lead to weight gain.
The recommend units per day are 3-4 units for men and 2-3 for women – although I suggest no more than 1-2 units per day and ensure you have at least 3-4 alcohol free days per week.
Did you know that women who exercise regularly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease 30 to 40 percent?! Your heart is a muscle and exercise keeps it fit and strong to help it pump blood around the body. Exercise also improves your overall health, reduces cholesterol levels, helps you to manage your weight and alleviate stress. Aim for at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (the heart pumping, out of breath kind) 5 times a week.
5. Reduce your sugar intake
You may have received a large box of choccies today, however before your dive in and devour those love hearts be warned – high sugar diets can lead to diabetes, which is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Avoid refined sugars found in cakes, biscuits, processed foods, cereals, etc and maintain blood sugar balance by eating small regular meals and snacks throughout the day, each with a balance of protein, vegetables, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
6. Reduce salt intake
A diet rich in salt can cause high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart disease. Processed foods are the biggest culprits so steer clear of these (ready meals, crisps, pizzas, tinned foods, etc).
7. See your GP: Know your numbers:
High blood pressure = shorter life expectancy, so get down to your GP and get tested. Blood pressure readings are measured using pressure readings: systolic (the top number) and diastolic (the bottom number).
Top number (systolic): ‘When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of your body. This force creates pressure on the heart and is called systolic blood pressure.’
- Under 120 = normal
- 120 – 139 = borderline/pre-hypertention
- Over 140 = hypertension/high blood pressure
Bottom number (Diastolic): ‘The diastolic blood pressure number (bottom number) indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats’
- Under 80 = normal
- 80 – 89 = prehypertension
- Over 90 = hypertension or high blood pressure.
Whilst cholesterol is required for some basic bodily functions, high levels of cholesterol in the blood can lead to fatty deposits in your coronary arteries that increase your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diseases that affect circulation.
Your total cholesterol (TC) should be 5.0 mmol/L or less
8. Eat heart friendly foods
Brightly coloured and green leafy vegetables and healthy fats found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds are full of heart protecting antioxidants (they help to fight damage caused by free oxidising radicals). Oats, beans and pulses are all high in fibre which can help lower cholesterol levels.
9. Stay hydrated
Keeping the body hydrated helps the heart easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles, therefore the more hydrated you are, the less hard your heart has to work.
10. Live, love, laugh and be happy
A happy heart is a healthy heart as stress can increase blood pressure. Being unable to manage stress levels is a sure fire way of leading you astray resulting in unhealthy heart habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating nutritionally void foods. Manage your stress, surround yourself with people who make you feel good, love your job and love your life. Simples 🙂