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Seven steps to a healthier heart

Discover how making just a few small tweaks to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Blueberries in a heart

Over half of all adults in the UK have raised cholesterol according to Heart UK – putting them at increased risk of heart disease. A recent survey of 2,000 people by Healthspan, found that 41 percent of people admitted that they still don’t do enough to look after their heart health. 

Heart disease is caused when the coronary arteries narrow and clog up due to a gradual build-up of waxy, fat within their walls. This develops when levels of unhealthy LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol are too high. To improve the health of your heart you need to reduce levels of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.

Your risk of high cholesterol can be genetic but is also increased by your age, ethnicity and lifestyle factors but whatever the reason; if you have high cholesterol and high blood pressure you are at increased risk of having a heart attack. Smoking, being overweight and drinking too much are also risk factors but having a healthy diet and exercising are key to improving cholesterol levels.

The following small changes can have a huge effect on your heart health.

Eat porridge

Porridge

"A daily bowl of porridge can help reduce your levels of LDL, the 'unhealthy' type of cholesterol and so helps take care of your heart," says Healthspan nutritionist Rob Hobson. He adds, "Experts are now saying that eating porridge every day could be as beneficial as taking statins (medicines that help lower LDL cholesterol). The beneficial effect is down to the high quantity of soluble fibre in oats known as beta glucan. This fibre forms a thick gel in the gut which not only helps you to feel fuller for longer, it also helps reduce levels of harmful cholesterol. Studies have shown that eating 3g of beta glucan a day – an average size bowl of porridge – can reduce levels of harmful LDL cholesterol by around seven percent, making the benefits around the same as taking statins."

Spice up your diet

“A recent study has found that chilli consumption is good for your heart,” says Dr Ameet Bakhai, Consultant Cardiologist at Spire Healthcare. “When you eat chilli the capsaicin receptors in your body improve blood flow. The study found there was a 12 to 13 percent lower death rate in the people who ate hot red chilli peppers.” Garlic can also benefit heart health as it contains a unique amino acid, allicin, which both reduces cholesterol production in the liver and acts to reduce the uptake of cholesterol. It also helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Turmeric has also been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties due to an active compound called curcumin. Long-term inflammation is a risk factor for heart disease.

Try supplements

“To keep your heart healthy it’s good to have a decent level of vitamin D in your bloodstream,” explains Dr Klaus Witte, Senior Lecturer in Cardiology at the University of Leeds. “We probably only raise our vitamin D levels when we go abroad on holiday for one or two weeks. For the rest of the year, we’re probably deficient in vitamin D. Taking a supplement of 25 micrograms of vitamin D 3 a day, which is a safe dose, is probably enough for most people, provided they are going out in the sunshine now and again.” Try Healthspan Super Strength Vitamin D3. Other helpful heart-healthy supplements include plant sterols and omega 3.

Make it beat faster

Couple walking

“The heart is the powerhouse of the body,” says Nicola Addison, celebrity personal trainer from EQVVS Training. “Exercise is proven to help protect it and keep it as healthy as possible. It can also help control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. If you aren’t used to exercising, start off small – try walking for 10 continuous minutes, three times a day. Do this for 21 consecutive days. Aim to build your way up to 30 minutes of consecutive walking, every single day. Don’t be intimidated by what you currently think your fitness level is. Any movement you do today will be more than yesterday.”

Take the stress off it

The British Heart Foundation say stress is not in itself a direct risk factor for cardiovascular disease but the way you deal with – overeating, drinking too much or smoking – could be. Psychologist Dr Megan Arroll suggests you deal with stress by taking yourself away from the situation that is making you tense and doing this walking mindfulness exercise: “As you take a walk, notice the sound of your feet as they hit the ground, feel the air as it swooshes past your face. If you walk mindfully, you'll feel calmer and more grounded after this exercise and hopefully less likely to turn to food, alcohol or cigarettes.”

Get measured

It is estimated that 7 million Britons are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure. This is when your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be and left untreated can, in time, increase your risk of heart problems including a heart attack or stroke. You can’t feel or notice high blood pressure – you need to have it measured by a doctor or nurse – and ideally everyone over the age of 40 should have theirs monitored regularly. “With heart disease, a healthy diet can be a lifesaver – yet only 34 percent of over-65s eat their 5-a-day,” says A. Vogel’s consultant nutritional therapist Ali Cullen. If yours is high or borderline high, help reduce it by doing more exercise, eating a diet that includes plenty of nutritious vegetables and fruit and omega 3-rich fatty acids found in oily fish and nuts and seeds, keeping your weight down, stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol and cutting down on salt. Try Jan de Vries Hawthorn-Garlic Complex for both high and slightly low blood pressure as it is thought to act as a true ‘cardiac’ tonic aiding oxygen supply to the heart muscles by exerting mild dilatory effects on the vessels supplying the heart, improving the function of the muscle. 

Get antioxidant help

Broccoli

The antioxidant CoQ10 (made in the body from Ubiquinol) – and found naturally in foods like offal, sardines, peanuts, sesame seeds, broccoli – is known to help with circulatory health. Levels of this nutrient naturally diminish with age plus recent research has shown if you take Statins your levels can ‘drop by 40 to 50 percent’ explains Medical Nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. She adds, “CoQ10 is needed for energy production by all body cells and is especially important in muscle, including the heart. Although lowering CoQ10 levels may not cause problems for healthy adults it may worsen heart problems in some people and may contribute to muscle-related side effects of statins such as muscle aches and weakness.” Taking CoQ10 supplements or the body ready form of CoQ10 which is Healthspan Ubiquinol has been proven to help maintain healthy LDL cholesterol levels in healthy people as well as supporting those on statin medication.  

Head to the dentist and brush up

Research suggests that people suffering from periodontal disease – infections of structures around the teeth like your gums – are at almost twice the risk of heart disease. Some experts suggest the risk could even be greater than having high cholesterol. To help prevent periodontal problems, be vigilant about your dental hygiene at home and see your dentist regularly so they can pick up on any early signs of periodontal disease and treat it. Dr Uchenna Okoye, Clinical Director at London Smiling says: “Make sure you invest time into ‘oral wellness’ and make sure you have the right ‘tools’ for the job. I recommend the Oral-B Genius 9000 as it provides the perfect balance between gentle brushing and superior cleaning.”

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 11:51 am Health

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