15 minutes to a healthier heart

Your heart is your body’s powerhouse and keeping it healthy is vital for your longevity. The good news is, it only takes a few minutes a day to feed and exercise it to keep it fighting fit. 

Making a few small changes to your daily routine could make a huge difference to your heart health. Experts predict that 80 per cent of heart attacks and strokes could be prevented if we spent more time looking after our hearts. “It’s never too late,” says cardiologist Dr Ali Khavandi, a consultant at BMI Bath Clinic in Somerset and founder of www.cardiologistskitchen.com.

“Your risk of heart disease responds quickly to lifestyle changes and whatever your age, you can see improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol within a few weeks with just a few simple daily tweaks.”

Your heart is the centre of your cardiovascular system and responsible for just about everything that gives you life – from transporting oxygen and nutrients to every cell to keeping your immune system firing. It’s easy to take it for granted as many of the problems that affect it, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, often don’t have visible symptoms. This means that as many as seven million people in the UK have cardiovascular disease and one person dies from it every three minutes, according to the British Heart Foundation. While there is a genetic link in heart disease, studies show it’s lifestyle rather than family history that has the biggest impact.

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Say cheese

A 40g (11⁄2oz) chunk of cheese a day may help reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. Although high in saturated fat, cheese has nutritional benefits that balance the fat content but weigh out your portion carefully!

Your take-five challenge

A healthy diet leads to a healthy heart – but don’t get bogged down thinking about which foods you should be eating less of and focus on the heart- healthy foods you should be including instead. “A diverse and varied diet is best for your heart, so try to eat as wide a range of fresh foods as possible,” says Dr Khavandi. “These five foods have been found by study after study to have lots of positive benefits for your cardiovascular health. You don’t need to eat all of them every day, but try to include them several times a week.”

Nuts

A cardiovascular superstar; in fact a recent US study found that the more unrefined nuts such as walnuts or almonds you eat, the healthier your heart will be. Walnuts are especially good, helping to reduce your risk of heart disease by 21 per cent according to the research. Try a palmful every day on yogurt, scattered over salads or as a snack.

Fruit

All whole fruit (not smoothies and juices which can be high in sugar) is great for your heart. But if you want a really heart-friendly hit, eating three 80g (3oz) servings of berries such as blueberries or strawberries a week could reduce your risk of heart disease by 32 per cent according to UK researchers. Their benefits come from anti- oxidant flavonoids which help to fight inflammation in your heart and blood vessels.

Legumes

Beans and lentils are packed full of fibre and just one serving a day has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad one) by five per cent. A serving is 80g (3oz) or three heaped tablespoons.

Vegetables

This one might seem obvious but it’s really important. Pile your plate with colourful seasonal vegetables and make sure you eat plenty of leafy greens and brassicas such as kale, broccoli and cabbage. Greens are packed with Vitamin K, which studies show helps keep your heart pumping healthily.

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Oily fish and extra-virgin oil

A heart-healthy diet is not necessarily a low-fat diet and eating plenty of unsaturated fats from oily sh and olive oil could actually help to reduce your risk of heart disease by a fifth and help to lower your cholesterol levels, according to US researchers.

Extra benefits

Pile your plate with our top five foods and you could see your waistline shrink. Carrying too much fat around your middle could increase your risk of heart disease. Aim for a waist measurement of 80cm (31.5in) – 94cm (37in) for a man.

Walk your heart fit

Your heart is like any other muscle, it needs to be worked to stay in good shape. “Regular exercise helps keep your heart fit,” says Dr Khavandi. “It’s the most effective way to help with
breathlessness, stress, tiredness and fatigue. It also helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, keeps your weight in check, lowers your risk of Type 2 diabetes and makes you less likely to experience heart rhythm disturbances.”

Current guidelines advise 30 minutes of exercise a day, but when it comes to a healthy heart, squeezing a 10-15 minute walk into your day could make a significant difference. One study found a short burst of activity every day could improve cardiovascular fitness by 4.2 per cent, which would make a big difference to how out-of-puff you feel climbing stairs.

The next step

Once your fitness levels improve (and they will) use your extra energy to walk further and faster. Upping your exercise to the next level will increase cardiovascular health even more according to experts.

Did you know

If you look after your heart you’ll be safeguarding your brain too? What’s good for the heart is good for the brain helping you to stay sharp in future.

Get out of your chair


Just getting up out of your chair for a couple of minutes every hour could help to protect your heart and even reduce your risk of a heart attack. One US study found that prolonged sitting encourages the release of proteins that are associated with damaged heart cells. You can fight back by setting an alarm and getting active for two minutes every hour. Try walking up and down the stairs, dancing to your favourite song or doing some stretches while the kettle boils.

Every time you eat a heart-healthy food, get up out of your chair and move, or head outside for a walk – you’ll be improving your heart health. celebrate every positive step you take by keeping a note of your achievements with our handy cut-out-and-keep tracker.

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15 Minutes to Great Health is our ongoing 2018 campaign, giving fast and easy tweaks to your lifestyle and diet that can, when added together, make a huge difference to your health and wellbeing. If you have missed any of the previous parts, you can still join in! Or, if you would like to catch up on our advice on healthy eating, fitness, mood boosting, sleeping well and brain power, they’re all available at www.yours.co.uk/health-and-wellbeing/health/

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