Healthy steps to help ensure a healthy heart
There are a number of things that can increase your risk of heart disease. Some of these risk factors can be changed by you, while others can’t. By making positive changes, you can dramatically reduce your risk of having a heart attack.
Being smoke-free is the single most important thing you can do for your health. Every cigarette you smoke will harm you. Most people associate smoking with breathing problems and lung cancer, but smoking is also a major cause of heart disease for women and men.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure means your blood pressure is consistently higher than the level recommended for you. As your arteries become narrower and less stretchy, your blood pressure rises. One high blood pressure reading is not unusual but if you have had several high readings, you may be diagnosed with high blood pressure. Cutting back on the amount of salt you eat, can help to lower your risk of high blood pressure.
Being active is key to having a healthy heart. Regular physical activity can help lower your blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of diabetes and relieve stress.
The good news is that people who have been inactive experience the biggest health benefits from starting moderate physical activity.
You are at greater risk of developing heart disease if an immediate male relative, such as your father or brother, has had a heart attack before the age of 55, or if an immediate female relative, such as your mother or sister, has had one before the age of 65.
Even if you have a strong family history of heart disease, you can still protect yourself by taking good care of your heart. Watch your weight, exercise regularly, eat healthily and avoid smoking.
Being overweight increases your risk of heart disease. This is because being overweight or obese is strongly linked to other factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. The main cause of being overweight and obese is simple – we eat more than we exercise.
High blood cholesterol occurs when you have too much cholesterol in your blood. People who have high blood cholesterol have a greater chance of getting heart disease. One of the main causes of high cholesterol is a diet that’s high in saturated fats. Things you can do to reach a healthy cholesterol level:
❚ Cut back on foods containing saturated or trans fats e.g. fatty meats, cakes and biscuits.
❚ Choose reduced fat dairy products.
❚ Replace saturated fats with healthy oils such as olive, sunflower, rice bran or avocado oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
❚ Follow a heart healthy dietary pattern which is based largely on minimally-processed foods and is high in vegetables and fruit. It also includes some whole grains (in place of refined grains), legumes, nuts, seeds and other sources of healthy fats such as oily fish, and can contain non-processed meats or poultry and/or dairy.
❚ Regular physical activity can also help increase ‘ good’ HDL cholesterol.
People who have been inactive experience the biggest health benefits from starting moderate physical activity.