It’s that time of year again when we all try and make resolutions for the months ahead. If you haven’t already done this, why not make a conscious effort to look after your vital organs, and boost your health? It’s never too early to start protecting your heart. Even if you’re young and fit, there’s probably more you could do to reduce your risk of heart disease. If it’s time you started loving your heart more, these handy hints should come in useful.
The facts about heart disease
Heart disease is one the world’s leading killers. In the US alone, more than 600,000 lives are lost to heart disease every year. Many people assume that heart disease is a condition that affects older people, usually men. However, statistics show that more and more women and younger people are affected by cardiovascular disease. Many cases could be prevented by making healthier lifestyle choices.
Risk factors for heart disease
The leading risk factors for heart disease include:
Smoking is the most common cause of preventable death in the world. It damages almost every organ in your body and increases the risk of stroke, heart attacks, cancer, and deadly respiratory illnesses. When you smoke, the chemicals you inhale damage the lining of the arteries, which elevates the risk of atheroma. This occurs when fatty deposits gather in the arteries. These collections restrict blood flow to and from the heart and brain, exposing you to a risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Be honest. How much time do you spend sitting or lying down each day? Your heart is a muscle, and it needs exercise just like every other muscle in your body. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, your muscle tissue can waste away. Inactivity is also linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity, both of which are also risk factors for heart disease.
There are many foods, which offer incredible benefits for heart health. However, there are also foods that harm your heart. Processed, fatty, fried foods and meals and snacks that contain a lot of sugar and salt may contribute to high cholesterol. This increases the risk of atheroma.
Drinking excessively contributes to high blood pressure, which is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease. Blood pressure relates to the force at which the blood travels through the vessels. If you have high blood pressure, drinking exacerbates the situation, putting you at risk of heart attacks and heart failure. There are often no obvious signs of high blood pressure, so it’s wise to have regular routine checks. Many alcoholic drinks also have high sugar and fat content, which can be linked to weight gain and high cholesterol.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common health problem. When you have your blood pressure measured, you will be given two numbers. The higher number is known as systolic pressure, and this measures the force at which your heart is pumping blood. The lower number is a diastolic reading, which measures the resistance your blood vessels put up when blood flows through them. If you have high blood pressure, this will present a reading of over 140/90. A normal reading is around 120/80. If you have high blood pressure, there’s a greater risk of heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, and aortic aneurysms.
If you have a close relative with heart disease, this can increase your risk of developing the condition. You may be advised to have regular health checks and to adopt healthy lifestyle habits to try and lower your risk.
Making healthier lifestyle choices
Some cases of heart disease are linked to factors beyond our control. However, many cases are associated with the lifestyle choices we make. If you’re keen to boost your heart health, here are some suggestions to take on board.
Exercise on a regular basis
When you exercise, you strengthen your heart muscles, improve your circulation, and increase your fitness and endurance. Working out, going for a walk or taking your bike out helps to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It can also prevent weight gain, and keep stress at bay. You don’t have to become a gym bunny overnight. Experts recommend five 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise per week. This can include everything from taking your dog for a walk or going for a job to playing tennis, doing the housework or enjoying a round of golf.
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to give up your favorite foods or endure boring meals to eat well. Healthy food can be tasty, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Try and include foods in your diet, which are proven to benefit your heart. Whole grains are a great place to start. They are rich in fiber, and they contain less sugar and fat than refined versions. Swap white pasta, bread, cereals, and rice for wholemeal versions, and you’ll soon notice a difference. It’s also advisable to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. These superfoods are stuffed with vitamins and minerals. Berries are particularly good for your heart because they contain phytonutrients. Scatter blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries on your porridge in the mornings, or add them to a bowl of Greek yogurt for dessert. You can also take advantage of cranberry juice benefits or make your own smoothies at home using the fruits you love. Keep an eye on your intake of sugar and salt, and swap frying for grilling and baking.
Smoking and drinking
Drinking in moderation shouldn’t cause you any problems. However, many of us drink too much without even realizing. Keep a diary to check your weekly intake. If it’s more than 14 units, try and cut down. If you’re a smoker, and you want to quit, consult your doctor. There are lots of treatments and techniques that can help. Nicotine replacement therapy is an option many people find beneficial. You could also look into group sessions and therapy with a stop smoking adviser.
Your heart is your most precious organ, and it’s never too early to start looking after it. Try and be as active as possible, and adopt healthy eating habits. Ask your doctor for help with giving up smoking, and keep tabs on how much you drink.