Top tips for looking after your heart

13 February 2019

When Dr Shrilla Banerjee started in Cardiology, her senior colleagues told her…”don’t worry, it’s only a pump!” but what an understatement.

You only have one heart, so take good care of it. As a Cardiologist, Dr Banerjee's job is to not only treat and diagnose heart disease, but to also try and prevent it. With the nation’s health resources becoming more scarce and the population living longer, this is something we can all be involved with.

The most important advice she can give anyone is to stop smoking. Smoking is the number one cause of coronary artery disease: this often presents as angina (chest pains) or heart attack (really severe chest pains). Smoking helps accelerate the furring up of arteries and makes blood stickier and more likely to clot in the narrow arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. These important arteries are only about 3mm wide.

Another preventative strategy is to increase exercise and get active. Even a brisk walk that makes you sweaty and breathless represents a level of exercise we should be aspiring to. In addition, some attention (maybe twice weekly) should be paid to muscle-building exercise such as moderate weight-training or body-weight exercises, as these exercises increase your muscle mass and make the body more efficient. Exercise has been proven to reduce levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). And finally, exercise boosts your metabolism and your mood. A win-win! 

Imagine carrying heavy shopping around with you all day - this is what your body has to cope with if you are over your ideal body weight. And sadly you can’t just put the weight down to get rid of it… it takes serious attention to sensible eating and portion control to result in significant weight loss. The simplest way to eat healthily is to eat small portions of food that have not been prepared in factories. And in that healthy food, try and include your ‘5-a-day’, good sources of fibre and watch the amount of salt added.

The saturated vs unsaturated fat debate is ongoing, but generally accepted dietary wisdom suggests that eating lean cuts of meat and semi-skimmed as opposed to full-fat milk are better choices.

A long-standing and established suggestion for a healthy heart is to eat fish. At least twice weekly. This does not include the batter-coated fish frequently seen wrapped in newspaper on Friday nights, but mackerel, tuna, salmon and sardines.

Alcohol may contain some benefits, such as a high level of anti-oxidants (especially rich in Chilean reds apparently!) but remember there is a huge calorie burden. With calories, comes curves.  Mostly unwanted and very difficult to shift when the extra calories become very settled in the layers of fat around the abdomen. The expanding waistline is not just due to fat deposition around the waist, but also due to the coating of all the internal organs in a thick layer of fat. This represents the development of the metabolic syndrome and puts one at risk of developing diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

And finally, be kind to yourself. Take a break, practice relaxation and mindfulness so that your body can sometimes have a rest from the hectic world around you. 

You only have one heart, so please look after it.

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