Young at heart? Tips to improve your heart health
Could you be doing more for your heart? Find out how you could have a positive impact on your heart health.
It’s the strongest muscle in your body, the engine that keeps your blood pumping – and by the time you are 70 it will have beaten an incredible two and a half billion times. And yet many people still don’t give their heart the recognition it deserves.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) continues to be the number one global cause of death and disability, particularly through strokes and heart attacks. However, most major risk factors can be controlled through simple adjustments to a few key lifestyle habits.
The British NHS heart age calculator works out your heart age in comparison to your real age, and can give you an idea of how well you're ticking along.
Whether your heart is "older", "younger" or the "same age" as you, it is important to keep your it healthy. Here are are some things you can start doing immediately to help lower your heart age:
- Keep active – at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week
- Eat plenty of heart-friendly foods such as vegetables, wholegrains and lean meat
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
- Limit salt in your diet and drinking more water
- Know you numbers – keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol whenever you get them checked
- If you are a smoker, try to stop smoking
Looking after your health means having your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major factor in heart disease. High blood cholesterol and glucose levels also place you at greater risk. Monitoring your health will give you advance warning of potential problems - and the chance to adjust your lifestyle to offer you greater protection for your heart health.
A weighty issue
Being a healthy weight is key to ensuring heart health, and keeping active and eating healthily are the two pillars that will help you achieve this. A diet rich in leafy vegetables, lean meat, low-fat dairy and wholegrain foods, limited salt and alcohol and plenty of water are fundamental building blocks to healthy living. An active body is a happy body, and just 30 minutes of exercise five times a week makes a significant difference in the prevention of heart attack or stroke. However, the most effective way to reap the benefits of regular movement is to build it into your daily life, try not to sit for long periods of time, take the stairs instead of the lift and walk short distances instead of taking the car. All these “invisible” activities will build up into a picture of health that is easy, organic, and one which your heart will thank you for.
Stop smoking and your risk of coronary heart disease halves within a year. The body’s ability to repair itself is incredible and your risk will continue to decrease the longer you are a non-smoker, returning to a normal level over time. Choose from one of the many cessation aids available, ranging from nicotine replacement (patches, gum for example) to psychological support. Also avoid smoke-filled environments as even second-hand smoke exposure can increase the risk of a heart attack.
Chronic stress can also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, and reducing your stress levels will bring significant benefits. Regular physical activity, a good work-life balance, positive relationships, regular relaxation and taking up a practice such as mindfulness, yoga or breathing exercises will all help to bring healthy balance.