Your diet has a huge impact on your heart. Limit your intake of fatty, salty foods such as takeaways, ready meals, fatty red meats, cream, butter, cakes, crisps and sweets, which could all contribute to the fatty deposits in your arteries.
Instead fill up on oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel, which could reduce your risk of a heart attack by 30 per cent according to US scientists. Add to that plenty of fruit and veggies and you could reduce your risk by a further 22 per cent according to a European study.
Fruit and veg contain antioxidant vitamins which have been shown to help protect your heart. To get the full benefits you need to eat at least eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day – but every little helps.
Stock up on wholegrain starchy foods such as brown rice, oats, wholegrain cereals and wholegrain bread too. Studies have found that wholegrain foods could help to lower your blood pressure and also prevent hardening of your arteries.
Reduce your salt intake – it has been linked to high blood pressure, which increases your risk of CHD. You should be eating no more than 6g of salt a day, which is the equivalent of a teaspoon, but most of us get nearer to 9g. Watch out for processed foods because 70 per cent of the salt you eat is already added to foods. High salt culprits include bread, cereals, cheeses, processed meats and ready meals.
Too much alcohol is bad for your heart but you can have the odd glass of wine. Canadian scientists found people who have one alcoholic drink a day are up to 25 per cent less likely to develop heart disease that teetotallers. Red wine is the drink of choice because it’s full of heart protective antioxidants.
Getting up out of your chair could also make a big difference to your heart. Researchers have discovered that too much time sitting down increases levels of proteins in your body, which are harmful to your heart. The more you get up and move around the lower your risk.
Once you’re up out of your chair you can get even bigger benefits by doing some exercise. Experts have found that regular exercise doesn’t just help to prevent a heart attack it could also protect your heart from too much damage if you do have a heart attack. As little as 30 minutes three times a week could make a difference – but the more you do the better.
And of course, cutting out the cigarettes could make a huge difference to your heart health. Smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack as people who have never smoked. Smoking damages the lining of your arteries and increases the amount of fatty deposits that stop the blood passing through. Plus the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart. The sooner you stop the sooner you’ll see the benefits.
Aspirin has been shown to potentially reduce the risk of heart attack because it thins you blood making it easier for your heart to pump it around you body. Some experts suggest that everyone over 50 take a small daily dose – but others argue that the side effects such as internal bleeding make it unsafe.
The current British Heart Foundation guidelines recommend that people with angina or those who have had a heart attack take a small daily dose of aspirin because the potential benefits to them outweighs the risks. People without conditions should not take aspirin as a preventative measure. Always speak to your GP before taking aspirin.
Take the pressure off
One in three adults in the UK have high blood pressure, which could significantly increase their risk of heart disease and stroke. Blood pressure tends to rise with age and many women see an increase after the menopause. Aim to keep your blood pressure within the healthy range of 90 over 60 (90/60) and 120 over 80 (120/80).
Your local pharmacy or GP surgery should be able to help you get your blood pressure checked and following the healthy lifestyle suggestions above could help you keep it in check.
Some cholesterol is actually vital for good health, but too much could block your arteries and lead to angina, heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol is often undetected until you have a blood test or even begin to develop symptoms of heart disease itself, so have it checked regularly – the lower it is the better.
Occasionally, high cholesterol can be seen in yellow deposits on your eyelids or as a white ring round your iris. If you spot these symptoms make an appointment to see your doctor.
Look after your emotions
Caring for your heart isn’t just a physical thing – your mental health can play a big part too. Scientists have discovered that having depression increases your risk of getting heart disease – they just haven’t worked out exactly why yet.
It could be that having depression makes it harder to break unhealthy habits such as smoking, eating junk food and not exercising – all of which are bad for your heart. Or it could be due to higher stress levels or feelings of anxiety putting strain on your heart.
If you’ve already had a heart attack then it’s important to keep an eye on your emotions. Up to 20 per cent of people develop some symptoms of depression following a heart attack. While this might seem only natural after such a big shock, if you don’t deal with your emotions it could really hamper your recovery and put your at an increased risk of a second attack.
Talking to friends and family about how you feel could really help. Your GP might be able to refer you for counselling and could prescribe anti-depressants to help you cope. Although you might not feel very motivated, eating a healthy diet and getting some exercise could help both your heart and your mental health. Enlisting a friend to support you is often a good idea.
- There's more health advice in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.