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Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.  According to the British Heart Foundation, 7 million people across the UK are affected by the condition, causing 26% of all deaths.  The good news, however, is that most cases of cardiovascular disease – conditions affecting the heart and circulatory system – are preventable, and leading a healthy lifestyle can not only lead to a healthy heart but numerous other benefits, too.  Dr Taher Mahmud explains what you can do daily to improve your heart health and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.

1.  Quit smoking

These days, it almost goes without saying, but smoking is linked to all manner of conditions, including respiratory disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease.  Smoking is one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease, but even after one year of quitting, the risk of having a heart attack drops to half that of a smoker.

2.  Exercise

39% of adults in the UK do not meet official recommendations for physical activity, which translates to about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five days a week or 75 minutes of intense activity spread across the week.  Even walking briskly can contribute to meeting these recommendations or carrying the groceries back from the supermarket!  Try to break up periods of being sedentary by taking breaks, reducing the time you spend watching TV or on the computer, and substituting part of your everyday journeys through walking or cycling some of the way.

If exercise were a pill, it would be prescribed by every doctor. Just meeting the recommended guidelines can reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, and even cancer.

3.  Know your limits

Keeping to your alcohol limits can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, protect your bones, and ensure the health of vital organs in the body, such as the liver.  The UK government puts the low-risk alcohol guidelines at 14 units a week for both men and women, translating to six 175ml glasses of wine a week, six pints of lager, or fourteen 25ml glasses of 40% spirits.  You can calculate the units you’re drinking at Drinkaware, and keep track of exactly what you’re consuming using their free app.

4.  Manage your weight

You don’t have to be in and out of the gym or restrict your diet forever, but managing your weight with a healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity should be one of your goals.  You should aim for a healthy weight, which varies from person to person.

5.  Lower your cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the blood, which in healthy doses is necessary, but in excess can lead to heart disease or stroke.  Visit your GP to get your cholesterol levels measured every five years or so, and if you have high cholesterol, talk to your doctor about ways you can work towards reducing it.

6.  Lower your blood pressure

You may not know if you have high blood pressure, but it can lead to cardiovascular problems and increase the risk of stroke.  It can also cause kidney disease and has been linked to certain forms of dementia.  Many heart-friendly measures listed here can help you lower your blood pressure, and you can keep an eye on it with the help of your healthcare provider.

7.  Eat less salt

75% of our everyday food contains salt, so think twice before reaching for the shaker.  Try to cut down on the amount you add to food, and check the salt content in your food to become aware of what you consume.  Even things you might consider healthy, like soup and cereal, can often have high salt content.  Foods which often have a high salt content are smoked foods such as bacon or other types of meat, cheese, olives, pickles and salted nuts.  There is nothing wrong with eating these foods, but ensure you eat them less frequently or cut back on your portion size.

8.  Eat your five a day

Plenty of fruit and veg is good for you and good for the heart.  Find more ways to work fruits and vegetables into your diet – it’s not as difficult as it might seem.  Even frozen vegetables count towards your five a day, and keeping frozen fruit in the freezer means it is always on hand for a quick smoothie. Add lentils or pulses to soups – these count as a portion of your five a day – and have a salad or some vegetables as a side along with your meal.  Add extra vegetables to your sauces, such as carrots in bolognese or mushrooms in a stir fry.  Mix fruit into yoghurt for a healthy, tasty breakfast.

9.  Increase your fibre intake

Switch up your white loaf for a wholegrain one, or substitute regular pasta for the whole wheat variety. Fibre can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, and recommendations put the ideal intake at at least 30g a day.  Don’t cut the skin off your jacket potatoes. Try eating porridge for breakfast and snacking on dried fruit and (unsalted) nuts.  Baked beans contain fibre, but all beans are good sources of it, and adding beans to your salad or using kidney beans in chilli can help to up your intake.

10.  De-stress

Looking after your mental health is important for your heart health, too. In those who are stressed or depressed, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases.  In day-to-day life, try to find activities that help you to relax and escape, and try to find a hobby that lets you divert your energy into something you enjoy.  Try to find the balance between work life and social life, and build your social support network.  Find ways to manage your stress and rethink how you look at situations.  Even changing your outlook can be one small way that helps with how you handle stress.

If you are concerned about your bone health, then please call to make an appointment.