Valentine’s special – the art of heart health

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Click the globe for translations.

Hearts are everywhere at the moment as St Valentine’s Day approaches – but what about the heart keeping you alive right now? Here are some top tips for heart health.

Bad news: heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide. Good news: it’s mostly preventable through lifestyle and risk factor management. Here are some ways you can truly love your heart – and some more good news: it’s never too late to start thinking about your heart health.

Move along

Your heart is a very muscular organ, packed with cardiac muscle which contracts when your heart beats, allowing blood to pump through your body and providing your cells and tissues with vital oxygen and nutrients, as well as carrying away waste products such as carbon dioxide.

Just like any muscle, exercise is the key. Try to get your heart pumping at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Good ways to get moving including walking briskly, running, swimming, aerobics, cycling, or playing sport.

Cycling aerobic exercise

Also try to avoid sitting for long periods of time. This can be tricky if you are chained to a desk, or glued to a screen, but if you have to sit still for long periods due to work or travel, try to get up from time-to-time and have a quick stroll round the office. Even a couple of minutes standing up and stretching can work wonders.

The weight of the world

Being overweight is a risk to heart health. Even a little weight loss can make a big difference to your health – losing just 10% of your body weight will help lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels, as well as making exercise easier.

Dieting for heart health

However, a too-rapid weight loss will put your health at risk; aim for a slow and steady weight loss plan, instead. Avoid crash diets and speak to a professional about a sensible, balanced programme.

Healthy eating = healthy heart

As well as not over-eating, there are plenty of easy ways to eat a diet that’s good for your heart.

Cut down on trans-fats, salt and cholesterol and stock up on leaner meats, fish and vegetables. Salmon and guacamole are packed with healthy fats that are good for the heart, and important omega-3 fatty acids can be found in oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil.

Berries for heart health

Even chocolate and red wine are on the ‘good list’ as they both contain antioxidants which can lower bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol and even improve blood clotting function. Don’t over-indulge, though – a little goes a long way!

Time to quit

Smoking permanently damages your heart and blood vessels; as well as increasing heart rate, tightening arteries and causing an irregular heart rhythm, it causes fatty deposits to build up in the arteries and this can lead to atherosclerosis.

Quitting can be difficult, but it’s never too late, and there are plenty of resources to help.

Second-hand smoke, also known as passive smoking, should also be avoided. Look for smoke-free venues and ask people not to smoke around you, in your house or in your car.

Stress less

Stress causes a rise in blood pressure and an accelerated heart rate – chilling out can be as good for your heart as it is for your mental wellbeing. Stress releases the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream, and high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase both blood cholesterol and blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease. Try to understand what triggers stress for you, and to control your mental and physical reactions to stressful situations. Breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and mediation can all be useful ways of de-stressing your life.

Meditation to de-stress

Sweet dreams

Try to get seven-to-eight hours of quality sleep each night. People who don’t get enough sleep may be at risk for cardiovascular disease, and it can be all too easy to burn the candle at both ends during the week and hope a weekend lie-in will compensate. Try to adjust your day for more shut-eye.

Wear a smile

Gum disease, which is also known as periodontal disease, can increase your risk a heart attack or other serious cardiovascular issue. Good oral health (brushing, flossing, mouthwash and regular dental check-ups) has serious heart health benefits.

Smiling group of friends

Image credits: Denise HustedPixabay, Manfred Antranias Zimmer / Pixabay,  Joel Muniz / Unsplash, Ulrike LeonePixabay, Isabell Winter / Unsplash

 


 

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.

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