Today in the UK, around 7.4 million people live with heart and circulatory diseases. With a growing and ageing population, and improved diagnosis, these numbers are expected to rise further. Factors like obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity can seriously increase your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases so making simple lifestyle changes is key to ensuring good heart health.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO KEEP YOUR HEART HEALTHY?
Know your blood pressure The British Heart Foundation (BHF) estimates that around 14 million adults in England have high blood pressure. It is known as a silent killer, as it rarely has noticeable symptoms and more than a third of these people are undiagnosed. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack or stroke, so knowing your numbers could save your life. If you are concerned about your blood pressure then head to your local GP or pharmacy who will be able to check it for you and offer advice. There are also a number of local pilot projects in new spaces, such as libraries and barber shops that can carry out blood pressure and health checks.
Quitting smoking is one of the single most important things you can do to improve your heart health, as smoking significantly increases your chances of developing heart and circulatory diseases such as coronary heart disease. If you want to quit, you’ll find that it may help to have some extra support. Ask your GP surgery if there is a nurse or counsellor in your area who can help. Alternatively, look for a local stop-smoking service. You could also ask your doctor or pharmacist about nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or medicines that can help you quit.
Social isolation is a serious issue that affects many thousands of people across the UK. We know that loneliness, and having few social contacts, can lead to poor lifestyle habits, such as smoking, which can in turn increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s important that anyone who is feeling lonely reaches out to their GP for help and advice on how to improve their wellbeing.
To improve your social interaction it might be beneficial to join a local community group or volunteer in your free time.
Keep calm and get active
BHF-funded research has found that stress can increase your risk of having a heart attack as it influences your blood pressure, heart rate and blood flow. Stress is also linked to the development of coronary heart disease, when the coronary arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls in a process known as atherosclerosis. If you suffer with stress, try and engage in activities that calm you down or take part in physical activity. Regular exercise can make all the difference to your heart health and be a great mood booster too.
Know your family history If you have a family history of heart and circula
tory diseases, you may have an increased risk of developing these conditions. Our statistics show nearly half of UK adults have never discussed their family medical history with their loved ones, even though almost two fifths of us worry that a relative could develop a condition that runs in their family.
Get some fresh air
Dangerous levels of air pollution in many parts of the UK are putting the general public at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke. BHF-funded research has found that even low levels of air pollution can cause serious changes in the heart. At the BHF we encourage ‘active travel’, such as cycling or walking to work, instead of travelling by car, as air pollution levels can be considerably higher inside a car.
Know the symptoms of a heart attack
Each year, there are almost 200,000 hospital visits due to a heart attack. Although survival rates have improved since we started funding research into new treatments, heart attacks still claim thelives of 180 people each day in the UK. Typical symptoms include pain or discomfort in the chest that doesn’t go away; it may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach; and, as well as pain or discomfort, you may get light-headedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting. It’s incredibly important to call 999 immediately if you do experience symptoms. The earlier a diagnosis is made and the sooner treatment is started, the better the chance of a full recovery.
How to love your food, and your heart
Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at theBritish Heart Foundation
Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. But even if you are a healthy weight, your diet can still increase your chances of developing high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, both of which are important risk factors for heart and circulatory diseases. Here are a few tips to ensure a healthier, balanced diet to keep your heart in good shape:
Salt is all around us. You might already know that it is in foods like bacon and crisps, but did you know that it can also be found in everyday foods like bread and cereals? In fact, around three quarters of salt that we consume has already been added to our food before we buy it. That means we need to be extra careful about how much is in our food, even if you don’t add it to your food at home.
Too much salt may raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease. Adults should eat no more than 6 grams of salt each day – equal to about one teaspoon.
This includes ‘hidden’ salt included in readymade foods. Children under 11 years old should eat even less.
The nutritional information on the packaging of any foods you’re buying and eating will tell you how much salt is in the foods you are buying. If a food has more than 1.5g of salt per 100g or more than 1.8g per serving then it is high in salt.
Food without a lot of salt doesn’t always have to be bland and tasteless. Try flavouring your food with pepper, herbs, garlic, spices or lemon juice instead. Watch out for cooking sauces and seasonings like soy sauce or jerk seasoning – some of which are very high in salt. It also helps not to leave salt on your dinner table, and try swapping snacks such as crisps and salted nuts with unsalted nuts or fruit and vegetables.
Salt isn’t the only everyday food that we should keep an eye on. It’s important to think about the types of fat that you’re eating.
Healthier fats are unsaturated fats – such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils – but too much saturated fat found in fats like butter, lard and ghee can raise your cholesterol, which could increase your risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Saturated fats should be replaced with unsaturated fats wherever possible. The average man should have no more than 30g of saturated fat a day, and the average woman should eat no more than 20g a day, but at the moment most of us are eating more than is recommended.
Processed meats such as sausages, ham and burgers and fatty cuts of red meat are higher in saturated fat than lean chicken, fish or pulses. Foods like cakes and biscuits, cheese (including cheddar) cream, butter, lard, coconut and palm oils also contain saturated fats.
Try swapping butter and lard, as well as coconut and palm oils, with small amounts of healthy fats, such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils and spreads. Try avocado on toast instead of cheese and instead of snacking on chocolate, cakes or biscuits try a handful of nuts or dried fruit or vegetable sticks dipped in hummus.
If you’re a meat eater, then make sure that you choose lean cuts of meat, trim any excess fat, and remove the skin from poultry.
And always make sure that you read the label of whatever you’re eating to compare products and make the healthiest choice.
Mediterranean way of eating
The traditional Mediterranean diet is a good way to visualise what a healthy diet looks like. This is typically made up of lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, wholegrain starchy carbohydrates, such as wholegrain bread, pasta and brown rice, as well as containing moderate amounts of fish, white meat, and some low-fat dairy produce.
Research into this style of eating has shown a reduced risk of developing heart and circulatory conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol – all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Furthermore, research into the Mediterranean diet has shown that people who follow this type of eating are more likely to live longer and less likely to become obese.