If your heart could get you to commit to few healthier habits, here's what it would have you saying...
Here is the expert advice you should follow for a healthy heart.
What you should be doing for a healthy heart
1) Know your body’s vital statistics
Understanding your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight are all important to help you manage heart-problem risks.
High blood pressure (hypertension) increases the likelihood of heart disease, but many of us don’t know we have it because there are usually no symptoms. So it’s best to get checked at a pharmacy or by a GP, or use a monitor at home. A reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure. Seek advice from your GP.
Cholesterol Too much of this substance in your blood raises your risk of cardiovascular diseases. If cholesterol is high, your doctor may suggest controlling it with medication such as statins, as well as lifestyle changes.
Weight Being overweight or obese makes you more likely to have a heart attack because fatty deposits can clog your arteries. Carrying any excess weight around your middle is particularly risky, as it affects how your internal organs and hormones work, raising your blood pressure and cholesterol. Your BMI should be in the healthy (18.5-24.9) range.
Try: an NHS health check. It’s free to over-40s in England and will test you for risk factors that increase your chances of coronary heart disease, including weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. For heart health advice, call the British Heart Foundation’s helpline on 0300 330 331.
2) Make use of what you’ve learnt during lockdown
There have been fewer heart attacks during the Covid-19 crisis, says Woman’s Weekly GP Dr Gill Jenkins. ‘Despite concern that people were frightened to visit a hospital, there’s evidence that having more time to exercise, an enforced slowing down of our frantic lives and even cleaner air from reduced traffic have been protective,’ she says.
- Aim for seven to eight hours sleep a night, with regular bed and wake-up times.
- Do regular stretching exercises, such as yoga and Pilates, to keep your arteries, as well as your body, flexible. Japanese studies found that people over 40 who were less supple had stiffer arteries, raising their risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
- Don’t smoke. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack. ‘Smoking releases a chemical called acrolein that stops ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol from transporting ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol back to your liver for processing,’ says GP Dr Sarah Brewer.
Try: to drink smart. Too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing an abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure and having a stroke. Stick to the recommendation of less than 14 units a week.
3) Walk as much as possible
Exercise can halve your risk of heart disease by giving you a strong, healthy heart. It will help keep your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check – all of which can have serious knock-on heart-health effects.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week. You don’t have to do it all in one hit – three 10-minute bursts throughout the day is fine.
‘Opt for aerobic exercise – anything that gets your heart pumping but allows you to talk,’ says Dawn Matthewman, personal trainer at Dan Roberts Elite.
But it doesn’t have to be ‘organised’ exercise. Doing housework, gardening or even preparing meals counts – anything that gets you moving. The advantage of cooking meals from scratch is knowing what’s going into them so you can keep them heart-healthy.
Try: a brisk walk. Other great heart-friendly activities include dancing, jogging, cycling or swimming. But check with your doctor first if you’re not used to exercising.
4) Enjoy a Mediterranean-inspired diet
‘Good heart health is directly associated with what you eat,’ says nutritionist Rob Hobson. ‘Eat a Mediterranean-inspired diet, choosing foods that are high in fibre (fruit, veg, pulses, lentils), and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados), as well as lean meats, low-fat dairy and oily fish (rich in heart friendly omega-3 fatty acids).’
Too much saturated fat causes high cholesterol and raises your risk of coronary heart disease. So swap full-fat milk for skimmed, and hard cheese for soft. Plus steam or grill food instead of frying.
Choose wholegrain over white. Brown rice, wholewheat bread and pasta contain more fibre and nutrients, and, eaten regularly, they can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Try other wholegrains such as bulgar wheat and quinoa.
Try: DIY treats. Snacks can be a nutritional disaster area for your heart, so make your own bakes, biscuits and bars to control the level of fat and sugar. Find recipes at bhf.org.uk
5) Ditch the salt
Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure, meaning your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body, increasing your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Aim for no more than one teaspoon (6g) of salt a day. Gradually cut back by sprinkling less on your food and into your cooking to let your taste buds adapt.
Try flavouring your food with herbs and spices, pepper, lemon or lime.
Think you don’t eat much salt? It’s not just what you add to your food – three-quarters of the salt we eat is already added. It’s found in ready meals, takeaways, processed meats, condiments, sauces, snacks and even sweet treats such as pastries. So read labels carefully, and try to cut back on these high-salt foods.
Try: a salt alternative. LoSalt for example, (£1.70, Sainsbury’s) has two-thirds less sodium than regular table, sea and rock salt. It isn’t suitable for some people, so check with your GP.