World Heart Day (29th September) aims to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease and give advice on having a healthy heart. Statistics from the British Heart Foundation show that cases of heart disease have decreased over the last three decades.* This is attributed to lifestyles becoming healthier and fewer people smoking.
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If you have a family history of heart disease, you may have a higher risk of developing problems. Also, older people are more at risk of developing the condition. Anyone over the age of 40 can receive a free heart health assessment (contact the surgery for more information).
Decrease your chance of having heart problems by making small alterations to your lifestyle.
Following a healthy diet is an easy but effective way to decrease the risk of heart disease. Eating a well balanced diet will help to keep your whole body, including your heart, healthy. Have plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and fish (oily fish is particularly good for the heart).
Keeping to a healthy weight is also important, but is particularly significant in avoiding high cholesterol levels, which can be a contributing factor to vascular problems.
Avoid eating too much salt. Excessive amounts of salt can lead to high blood pressure which increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Limit the amount of salt added when cooking, and also watch out for foods which might contain higher levels of salt then you realise. For example crisps, ready meals, canned soups and processed foods often have high salt content.
Alcohol can have extremely stressful effects on the heart, so avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. To find out more about drinking safely, visit www.drinkaware.co.uk.
Reducing your intake of saturated fat is particularly important. Try following these tips to limit the levels of fat in your diet:
- Avoid eating large amounts of fatty processed foods and junk foods. These foods contain large amounts of saturated fats which can increase blood cholesterol levels,
- When cooking. replace saturated fats such as butter, lard and ghee oils with unsaturated fats such as olive oil and vegetable oil.
- Remove the skin from chicken and turkey, and trim the visible fat from other meats.
- Levels of fat in foods which don’t have nutrition labels may be difficult to work out. Takeaways and bakery items can often contain much higher levels of fat than you realise. Also avoid big portions, creamy dressings on pre-prepared salads, and creamy curry sauces to lower your intake of fat
Be smoke free
Smoking is one of the major causes of heart disease. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than people who have never smoked.** Smoking damages your heart in a number of ways:
- It damages the lining of the arteries and leads to a build-up of fatty matter, which makes it more difficult for the blood to pass through,
- It reduces the amount of oxygen that the blood can supply to your heart,
- Nicotine stimulates a release of adrenaline that makes your heart beat faster and increases blood pressure,
- It increases the risk of blood clots,
There is a lot of advice and support available for people who are thinking of quitting smoking. The NHS website, www.smokefree.nhs.uk is a great starting point and you can order a free quit kit online which is full of information on how to stop smoking. You can also ring the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 022 4332 for more information or contact the surgery about other local support to help you give up.
Am I putting my heart at risk?
We all know that eating too many fatty foods will lead to weight gain, which can put undue pressure on our hearts. A simple test to check that your weight is within the healthy range is to measure your waist. Find the midway point between your hips and the bottom of your rib cage, which is usually the belly button. Wrap a tape measure around your waist at this point. A measurement above 94cm for men and above 80cm for women will increase the risk of health issues, including heart problems. Ethnicity can also be a contributing factor as some cultures are more susceptible to heart disease due to lifestyle and genetic factors. To find out more about keeping your heart healthy, visit www.bhf.org.uk or www.nhs.uk.