It’s responsible for one in four deaths in the UK, yet cardiovascular disease can be prevented. There are lots of things you can do to reduce your risks of developing heart disease – here are the main five.
1. Don’t smoke
As well as reducing the risk of strokes and cancer, giving up smoking (or, even better, not starting in the first place) will drastically reduce your risk of heart disease. There are three main ways that smoking harms your heart:
- Nicotine, which makes it beat faster, putting it under extra strain
- Carbon Monoxide which, when inhaled, reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry, increasing your heart’s exertion
- Fatty deposits, which start to build up in the arteries of regular smokers, and can lead to blockages that cause heart disease
2. Eat well
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet will improve your overall health and that of your heart. The following foods are just some that are thought to be good for your heart:
- Fatty Fish – tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are all high in omega-3 fats, linked to cardiac health by increasing the heart’s capacity during exercise
- Kiwi fruits raise the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in your blood, which removes ‘bad’ cholesterol, helping to prevent blood clots
- Blueberries are linked to healthy blood vessels because they reduce inflammation of the artery walls
- Legumes, such as lentils and black beans, are high in soluble fibre. Eating a sufficient amount of this (5-10g per day) will help prevent bad cholesterol from entering your bloodstream, according to research from Kate Patton, R.D., of the Cleveland Clinic.
But as well as increasing the healthier foods, long-term heart health means reducing the less healthy ones. Cutting down on both saturated fat and sugar is highly recommended.
Saturated fat can build up in the arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack. As for sugar, excessive consumption is linked to weight gain and diabetes, which could double your risk of heart disease.
Of the 3.6 million people living with diabetes in the UK, 90% have type 2, which is preventable with a healthy diet and exercise.
3. Moderate your alcohol intake
Alcohol can actually weaken the heart muscle, impeding its ability to pump blood. Added to this, regularly going over the recommended limits for alcohol could lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can cause heart disease and atrial fibrillation.
Prolonged, excessive alcohol consumption can also be linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which increase the risk factor of developing heart disease.
The UK recommendations for alcohol is to not exceed 14 units on a weekly basis. As a guideline, 14 units equates to six pints of 4% beer, or six 175ml glasses of 13% wine.
4. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is linked to a healthy heart because it helps to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
For adults aged 18-64, the World Health Organisation recommends between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week (or 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise), as well as strength training – such as weight lifting – twice a week.
As well as being a good thing for your heart in and of itself, regular exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress, which brings us to our final tip.
5. Reduce your stress levels
High blood pressure is a major cause of heart disease. In fact, 30% of people in the UK have high blood pressure and are not receiving treatment for it.
One of the best ways to reduce your blood pressure is to reduce your stress levels. If you are worried about high blood pressure, our private cardiology services provide blood pressure tests. Our private cardiologists will talk through your results thoroughly, offer professional advice and answer any queries you may have.
Ways of doing this can include regular walks, listening to music, or activities such as yoga.
Meditation (part of the practice known as mindfulness), is thought to be particularly beneficial.
Research has shown that 15 minutes of daily meditation can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 48%6. Getting started is actually very simple, and there are a number of books, websites and even apps for your smartphone available to help.