Heart and circulatory disease is still one of the UK’s biggest killers despite related deaths falling faster than those of other diseases. If you want to keep your heart in great shape, here are 10 things you can do:
1. Cut down on salt
If you have a diet high in salt, it’s likely that your blood pressure could be high too – which means you have an increased risk of suffering from heart disease or stroke. The recommended maximum daily intake of salt is just 6g for adults and 3g for children (2.5g of salt is the equivalent of 1g of sodium). Cut down by trying not to use any salt at all at the table and reducing how much you use in cooking. Also, keep an eye on food labels to check how much salt you’re eating in processed foods (foods with more than 1.5g salt or 0.6g sodium per 100g are high, so avoid them wherever possible).
2. Eat less sugar
Too much sugar in your diet could lead to weight gain, which can raise your blood pressure and lead to diabetes and heart disease. If you have a sweet tooth and can’t give up sugar altogether, simply have fresh fruit with yoghurt instead of sweetened puddings and cakes.
3. Limit saturated fat
Eating too much saturated fat – found in butter, ghee, margarine, fatty meats, dairy fats and processed foods such as pies, pastries and cakes – is believed to increase cholesterol levels. So switch to semi-skimmed milk and low-fat dairy foods instead of full-fat ones, choose lean cuts of meats and steam or grill instead of frying.
4. Fill up on fruit and veg
Increase the amount of potassium in your diet by eating at least five portions of fruit and veg a day (potassium can help to lower your blood pressure). The nutrients in fruit and veg – including vitamins, minerals and fibre – may also help to keep your heart healthy. Some fruits and veg that are rich in soluble fibre may also help to lower your cholesterol, including citrus fruits, sweet potato, aubergine, mango and most beans and pulses.
5. Go for more fish
Oily fish such as pilchards, sardines, mackerel, salmon and fresh tuna, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to be particularly beneficial for your heart because they improve your cholesterol levels. If you’re a vegetarian you can get omega-3 fats from spinach, wheat germ, walnuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, soya and canola oil and pumpkin seeds.
6. Quit smoking
Smoking is one of the main causes of cardiovascular disease, and smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with those who have never smoked. It not only damages the lining of your arteries but reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and raises your blood pressure.
If you’ve struggled with giving up smoking before, ask your GP about NHS Stop Smoking services in your local area.
7. Cut back on alcohol
Alcohol can affect your heart by causing high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and damage to the heart muscle. But you don’t have to give it up completely. Just stick to current guidelines for moderate alcohol drinking, which are two to three units a day for women and three to four for men. Find out more by visiting the Drinkaware Website.
8. Get more exercise
Studies show that people who aren’t very active are more likely to have a heart attack than those who are. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to lower your risk of developing coronary heart disease. You can split up the 150 minutes any way you like. For instance, have a brisk 30-minute walk every lunchtime during the week.
9. Keep your weight down
If you’re heavier than you should be, your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes is above normal. Eating less sugar and saturated fat while cutting back on alcohol, eating more fruit and veg and getting more exercise can all help you lose excess pounds – and keep those pounds off in the long term.
10. Keep stress under control
If you’re under a lot of stress, you may be more likely to smoke, take little or no exercise and drink more than a moderate amount of alcohol – all of which are linked with heart problems.