Six tips for a healthy heart

One of the leading causes of death in adults in the UK is coronary heart disease. However, this condition is preventable. The following six tips can help you protect your heart health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular conditions. 

1. Follow a heart-healthy diet

A heart-healthy diet should limit the amount of foods that are high in sugar, salt and starch. Ultra-processed foods contain high amounts of all of these substances and therefore shouldn’t form a significant part of your diet. 

It is important to note that becoming vegetarian or vegan doesn’t necessarily equate to a heart-healthy diet as vegetarian and vegan foods can also be highly processed and high in sugar, salt and starch. 

You can still eat meat and cheese, which tend to be high-calorie, high-fat foods, however, these should be eaten in moderation. 

To help protect your heart it is important to follow a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and oily fish. Saturated fats, such as butter, should ideally be replaced with olive oil. 

Although fresh fruit can contain high levels of sugar, this sugar occurs in a more complex form and usually alongside fibre, vitamins and other nutritionally valuable substances. In contrast, cakes, sweets and biscuits are often high in sugar and provide little other nutrition. 

In addition to the types of food you eat, it’s important not to consume too many calories as this will lead to weight gain. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many cardiovascular conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

1. Exercise regularly

The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, ideally spread evenly throughout the week. However, this amount of exercise is not always achievable for everyone. 

It is, therefore, important to incorporate as much activity into your daily routine as is reasonably possible. For example, you can replace a short drive with a walk or get off the bus one stop early. Research shows that fitting in as little as 4,000 steps a day is enough to reduce your risk of cardiovascular conditions. 

3. Quit smoking and recreational drug use

Tobacco in all its forms is highly toxic for your body, increasing your risk of cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions and cancer. There is no safe amount of tobacco intake. Around seven in every 10 smokers die of a smoking-related disease, such as heart disease or cancer. 

If you smoke, it is therefore important to seek help to quit — you can speak to your GP about available local stop smoking services.

Certain recreational drugs are also dangerous for your heart health. Cocaine and amphetamines are strongly implicated in the development of heart disease and increase your risk of having a heart attack, even at a young age. As with smoking, it is important to seek help to quit through your GP or local drug treatment service. 

4. Reduce how much alcohol you drink

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol increases your risk of cardiovascular conditions, including high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and heart failure. 

If you do not have an existing heart condition, drinking in moderation is generally considered to be safe. The NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol every week, which should be spread throughout the week, not binged. 

However, if you already have a heart condition, it is important to reduce your alcohol consumption as much as possible to prevent the progression of your condition.

5. Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of several heart conditions, including heart disease and heart attack, as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stroke

It is, therefore, important to not only follow a healthy, balanced diet but also to avoid consuming too many calories. Many fizzy drinks and alcoholic drinks are high in empty calories — this means they contain a high amount of calories, which leads to weight gain, but little to no nutrition. 

6. Reduce your stress levels

Long-term stress can lead to high levels of the hormone cortisol in your body. This increases your risk of cardiovascular conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure. 

To reduce your stress levels, try to avoid stressful triggers and overworking. It is important to invest time in activities that help you relax and feel good. This doesn’t just improve your quality of life and mental health but has tangible benefits for your physical health too. 

Author biography

Dr Hussain Contractor is a Consultant Cardiologist at Spire Manchester Hospital and at Wythenshawe Hospital, which is part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. He specialises in interventional cardiology, complex angioplasty and advanced techniques for managing chronic total occlusions. He has broad experience in the management of cardiac conditions including angina, coronary artery disease, palpitations and arrhythmias, blackouts, breathlessness, heart failure, high cholesterol, valvular heart and structural disease, and high blood pressure. Dr Contractor is also an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester and Clinical Research Lead for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

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