In celebration of this year’s Valentine’s Day, we want to send out a positive message about looking after your heart and the simple things you can do every day to show your heart some love.
Why is looking after your heart important?
The heart is a muscle around the size of your fist and has the crucial job of pumping blood around the body. It works around the clock beating around 100,000 times a day to deliver oxygen and nutrients to organs and muscles through your blood vessels. Unwanted carbon dioxide and other waste products are also carried away while the heart pumps the blood. In other words, our hearts keep us alive, so what can you do today (and every day) to look after your heart?
Eat heart healthy foods
Certain foods can increase your cholesterol level or raise your blood pressure which can lead to heart disease. These include fatty foods such as fatty meats, butter, fried foods, biscuits, cakes and salty foods such as crisps. Instead, opt for healthier options to keep your heart healthy:
|Type of foods
|Healthier fats and oil
|Lean meats and fish
Long term heavy drinking can increase blood pressure and weaken the heart muscles which can lead to heart disease. Even if you are not a regular drinker, consuming more than 15 units of alcohol in 24 hours can cause irregular heartbeat, breathlessness, tiredness and hypertension and consequently increase the risk of a heart attack.
Therefore, reducing your alcohol intake is another way to protect your heart. NHS recommends not exceeding 14 units of alcohol per week and spreading this across the entire week with several alcohol-free days. This is equivalent to 10 small glasses of wine or around 6 pints of beer.
Get plenty of sleep
How many hours of sleep are you usually getting each night? According to the NHS, most adults need between 6 and 9. Insufficient sleep (less than 6 hours) can increase the risk of heart disease. Too much sleep could also be a risk factor and can be a sign of an underlying health condition, so contact your doctor if this is the case.
Sleep is vital for a healthy body as well as for a healthy heart. How exactly sleep benefits the heart is not yet clear, but we do know that during sleep, important biological functions such as metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation are kept in check – functions which can influence the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Do some physical activity
You are probably not surprised to read that physical exercise can improve many aspects of your health, including heart health. By engaging in regular physical activity, you can help your heart by:
- Lowering the bad cholesterol in your body (LDL cholesterol that collects in the walls of your blood vessels) and raising the good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol which removes fat from arteries).
- Helping you control your blood pressure.
- Helping you lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
- Helping you lose weight and keep fit, as well as lose fat around the middle of your body which is important for a healthy heart.
The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. This can be any physical activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you breathe harder. Brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling or dancing are all good choices for your heart.
After a research conducted over a 5-year period, patients with coronary heart disease who were asked to meditate for 15 minutes every day, had a reduced risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke by 48%. This incredible change was linked to lower stress levels and blood pressure which meditation helped achieve.
During meditation, your breathing becomes slower and deeper which may help lower the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Decreasing stress in people suffering from heart disease can be important because stress can aggravate their symptoms.
Although more research is needed to understand the connection between meditation and heart health, adopting a meditation routine can make you feel less stressed and more balanced which ultimately might help prevent heart disease.
Practise good oral hygiene
Your dental hygiene doesn’t only impact your teeth and gums, it can also affect other parts of your body such as your heart. People with gum disease have an increased chance of getting a heart disease because the bacteria from their mouth could enter the bloodstream, and over time, this can damage blood vessels in the heart.
The good news is you can prevent gum disease and therefore decrease your risk of heart disease simply by maintaining good oral hygiene including:
- Brushing your teeth for a full 2 minutes twice a day
- Using a toothpaste with at least 1,350 ppm (parts per million) fluoride
- Flossing or using interdental brushes to help clean between your teeth
- Visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups and hygienist appointments
Give up smoking
Smoking can damage nearly every organ in your body and the heart is on the list too. Every time you smoke a cigarette, your blood pressure rises. Over time, this can lead to narrowing of the arteries, higher risk of blood clots and more chances of stroke or heart attack. In fact, according to the Heart Research Institute UK, smokers are 4 times more likely to suffer from a heart attack than non-smokers.
Giving up smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and your heart. After only 12 hours of not smoking, your oxygen levels in the blood will improve significantly. After one year, your risk of heart disease is halved, compared to someone who continues to smoke.
Even if you don’t smoke yourself, it’s best to stay away from other people’s smoke because second-hand smoke can affect you too.
The heart is at the centre of the system that keeps our body alive, so it’s important to look after it every day. Eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption, getting enough sleep, being more active, looking after our dental hygiene and not smoking are some of the things we can work on each day to show love to our heart.
But if you have any concerns about your blood pressure, diet, physical activity levels or medical history, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.