Heart disease kills 1 in 4 men in the UK under 75, and it kills twice as many women as men each year. For some, genetics play a part, but for most of us, heart disease can be prevented if you eat healthy and embrace positive lifestyle changes; you can add years and even decades to your life expectancy.
Your heart is an amazing organ that can beat around 70 times a minute non-stop for 100 years or more, pumping more than 10 million litres of blood around your vessels each year. Whilst we are young, we take this for granted and don’t think about looking after it, but we should start to pay more attention as we get into our 30’s and beyond if we want to keep it functioning into old age.
The heart like any other muscle needs its own blood supply, and it receives this via the arteries. Over time the arteries can become blocked, and if this happens, heart attacks may occur and some of the heart muscle may die.
Women are less likely to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack, and therefore less likely to seek medical attention. Typical symptoms of a heart attack include a severe chest pain or discomfort, which can spread up into the neck and jaw across the shoulders and down the left arm. Sweating, breathlessness, light headedness, and a feeling of nausea is also common, and urgent medical attention is needed.
A heart attack can be fatal, but luckily most people survive their first heart attack. Specialists may them recommend surgery but it’s important to note that none of these procedures attempt to solve the cause of the problem, only the results.
There are some warning signs you can look out for. The most common is angina – a constrictive pain in the chest, usually bought on by exertion. It’s the body telling you the blood supply to the heart is inadequate due to a narrowing of the arteries, and if you have experiences angina, it’s time to act.
Extreme or unusual fatigue is another sign which more than 70% of women experienced months prior to having an attack. This isn’t your usual, ‘I’ve not had enough sleep’ kind of tired either, it’s more you are so tired you can barely get off the sofa, and could mean blood is not getting to your heart fast enough due to a blockage.
On the plus side, you can still turn things around and live for another 40 years or more by looking after your heart health now. Some people have gone on to run a marathon after their first heart attack, so anything is possible.
Looking after your Heart Health
Preventative measures include keeping cholesterol levels low, and blood pressure in check. Diet plays a major role in preventative heart care – overconsumption of fatty foods, sugar and salt are all thought to lead to an unhealthy heart. People who have had heart attacks and suffer with angina have less essential fatty acids in their body than people with no heart trouble.
15 Ways to look after your Heart
1. Cut down on saturated fats found in meats, butter, cheese and cream. These can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood.
2. Eat healthy fats - Avoid foods containing trans fats, found mostly in mass produced biscuits, pies, cakes etc. Trans fats clog your arteries, increasing your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering your good cholesterol (HDL). Also, bear in mind that many low-fat products are full of sugar, which the body will convert to fat if not burned off during exercise.
3. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption – 1 glass a day is thought to be a protective measure, but large amounts are a known risk factor in heart disease. Alcohol also contain empty calories which could lead to weight gain and a further strain on the heart.
4. Eat more fish and less meat, especially red meat. Aim to eat fish twice a week, and good sources include mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna and salmon which are all high in Omega-3 fats and can help to prevent heart disease. (Pregnant women should limit this to 2 portions a week at most)
5. Seeds such as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are all a good source of essential fats, lowering your risk of developing heart disease.
6. Get your 5 a day - Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants – such as carrots, asparagus, French beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, watercress, cabbage, spinach, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangoes and tomatoes. They are also a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
7. Fibre, derived from fruits and vegetables is very protective, and all help to lower the risk. Aim for at least 30g per day. Also try adding potatoes with their skins on, oats and wholegrain cereals.
8. Eating nuts, especially pistachios, walnuts, brazil nuts and macadamia nuts have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol.
9. In Asia, ginger has been known as a heart strengthener for thousands of years.
10. Drink more water – at least 6 glasses a day
1. If you smoke, stop! It’s the best thing you can do for your heart health. And avoid places where passive smoking is an issue as your risk your risk of developing heart disease will increase by 25-30% if you are exposed to second hand smoke at home or work.
2. Manage your weight – obesity increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and it’s all about carrying excess weight to the point of straining your heart and raising your blood pressure, so stick to a healthy balanced diet, low in sugar, dairy and processed food to maintain a healthy weight.
3. Reduce stress in your life. There is no evidence to suggest that stress causes coronary heart disease or heart attacks, but if you have coronary heart disease and experience feelings of anxiety or are under lots of stress, it may bring on symptoms like angina.
If you often feel stressed or anxious, it's important to learn how to relax. Some people find that physical activity, yoga or other relaxation techniques can help. Learn to find ways that work for you.
4. Get active. Research has suggested that staying seated for long periods of time is bad for your health no matter how much exercise you do. This is bad news for the many people who sit at sedentary jobs all day.
When looking at the combined results of several observational studies that included nearly 800,000 people, researchers found that in those who sat the most, there was an associated 147 percent increase in cardiovascular events and a 90 percent increase in death caused by these events. In addition, sitting for long periods of time (especially when traveling) increases your risk of deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot).
Experts say it’s important to keep moving throughout the day – park further away from the office, take a short walk during your lunch break, and remember to exercise most days. Exercise can not only reduce your risk of developing heart disease, it can also enhance your mood and reduce stress.
If you have an existing heart condition, get your Doctors permission first, and start with walking for 30 minutes a day, gradually building up to an hour.
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5. Watch your temper - Losing your temper can trigger a heart attack – even as long as two hours after the anger has subsided, researchers have warned. People who are angry and argumentative suffer more with heart problems as they don’t learn to get things off their chest.
Everyone gets angry. It’s a normal emotion, and there’s probably a good reason why you feel that way. The way you handle your anger can make a difference to your heart, though. “If you have a destructive reaction to anger, you are more likely to have heart attacks,” says cardiologist Dave Montgomery, MD, of Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. That’s true whether intense anger makes you fiery or quietly fume. If you can tell people in an appropriate way that you’re angry, that’s a good sign, says Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, of Harvard School of Public Health.
High levels of anger are the issue, not ordinary anger, says Kubzansky, who has studied how stress and emotions affect heart disease. Physical activity is an excellent way to reduce your heart disease risk because it reduces stress, anger and hostility.
What motivates you to be heart healthy?