A healthy heart can lead to a healthy and long life – and it’s something you can work on every day.
What you eat, how much you move, whether you smoke and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure are among the things that can have a big impact on your heart.
But that’s not all. Of course smoking can damage your health as well as stress and high blood pressure, but did you know that not boosting your omega 3 levels can also take their toll?
This Valentine’s Day, take a look at the lifestyle habits that will keep you ticking along whatever your age…
While heart conditions that develop over time, such as coronary heart disease, tend to be rare in people under 35, leading a healthy lifestyle could stop them developing later.
Avoid smoking: The chemicals in tobacco smoke put a strain on the heart and damage the arteries, which can lead to heart disease. Even if you’re a social smoker, stop.
Boost your omega-3s: Research indicates that these fatty acids can benefit heart health. Aim for at least one portion a week from oily fish, or plant-based sources such as kale.
Emily Rollason, senior nutritionist at Holland & Barrett, says: “Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which promote normal blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood triglyceride levels.”
Lead an active lifestyle: Aim to fit in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. The good news during lockdown is a brisk walk counts as much towards your 15 minutes as team sports.
Studies suggest that if you have raised cholesterol in your mid-30s, it could have a lasting impact. Your risk of heart disease also rises after 45.
Eat more fibre: Aim for 30g daily – from fruit and veg, wholegrains, nuts and pulses – to lower your risk of heart disease. Some fibre-rich foods, such as oats, can help lower cholesterol.
Manage stress: Chronic stress has been linked to heart attacks and strokes, so if you’re struggling, try to find a way to manage it. Many people find that doing yoga is helpful, or try some mindfulness exercises.
Check your blood pressure: Exercise helps keep blood pressure levels under control but many people aren’t even aware they have high blood pressure. If you’re over 40, get yours tested every five years.
Emily says: “If your cholesterol is slightly raised, you may wish to speak to your doctor about taking plant sterols. These are plant compounds that may reduce absorption of cholesterol in the gut.”
Heart disease risk rises considerably after the age of 45. Oestrogen helps our blood vessels stay flexible, which could be why the risk increases for women post-menopause.
Limit sugar: Research has linked excessive sugar consumption to increased risk of heart disease. Cut down on sweet treats, fizzy drinks and resist adding sugar to your tea and coffee.
Watch your waist: Research suggests that waist circumference might be a better indicator of your heart attack risk than BMI. To stay trim, eat healthily and move more.
Drink in moderation: Heavy drinking is linked to high blood pressure. Over time, this increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. Stick to a maximum of 14 units a week, spread over three days or more.
Emily says: “As we age, our arteries can become stiffer, which may lead to an increase in blood pressure. But studies suggest garlic supplements might help to lower it.”
At this age, heart disease and related conditions such as strokes become more common. But you can limit your risk.
Keep eating healthily: Eat lots of fruit and veg and keep hitting those fibre and omega-3 goals. Keep cakes and biscuits as occasional treats and try to limit your salt intake.
Use it or lose it: Regular exercise plays an important role in heart health at any age. Just keep moving – walking, swimming and gardening all count.
Stay social: Research has linked loneliness to increased heart health risks, so get out for a walk with a loved one, or schedule a coffee with friends – over Zoom if need be.
Emily says: “Coenzyme Q10 may promote normal blood pressure and reduce triglyceride levels. Our natural levels decline with age and can be depleted by taking certain medications.”
February marks National Heart Month. The British Heart Foundation has more advice on how to look after yours at bhf.org.uk
- This feature is from the latest issue of Healthy magazine, available from hollandandbarrett.com and Holland & Barrett stores nationwide.