Are you clued up on the best ways to keep your heart healthy?
While you’re rushing about doing the weekly shop or playing with the grandkids, do you ever stop to think how healthy your heart is?
Statistics show that it’s time you did. Every year, a shocking 65,000 women suffer a heart attack and women are three times more likely to die from heart disease than from breast cancer. But why are we so clueless about the threat it poses to us?
"Many women don’t realise they can be at risk of heart disease. Its reputation as a condition affecting middle-aged men can make women more likely to ignore the symptoms and delay getting help," says Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation.
"But the reality is, just as many women die from cardiovascular disease as men and many of the risk factors for heart disease are connected to our lifestyle habits."
The good news is, there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing heart problems. And with February marking National Heart Month, there’s no better time to show your ticker some love…
Your eyes are a window to your heart
Most of us would never make the connection, but having regular eye checks can help detect serious health conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, which can both lead to heart disease.
"These conditions can be detected early by examining the tissue and blood vessels at the back of the eyes, through a digital retinal photograph," explains pharmacist Angela Chalmers. Time to get those eyes checked, pronto!
Did you know you’re more likely to have a heart attack in the morning than any other time of the day? This is because levels of the stress hormone cortisol peak early in the day.
"When this happens, cholesterol plaque that has built up in the arteries can rupture and block the flow of blood to the heart," explains pharmacist Angela Chalmers from Boots UK.
Add in a rise in blood pressure and an increased heart rate from a stressful commute to work, and you have the perfect recipe for a heart attack.
Lower your stress levels with some simple techniques – music can have a calming influence on our brains, so play something soothing as you get ready for the day. And get to bed early – the less sleep you have, the higher the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream.
Manage your cholesterol levels
Step away from the cakes! One of the easiest ways to reduce high cholesterol is making changes to what you eat. Biscuits, cakes, meat and full-fat dairy are full of saturated and trans fats, which raise cholesterol.
"Eat a more plant-based diet, choosing proteins such as beans/lentils/pulses instead of animal products,: advises nutritional therapist Julie Silver. Swap white rice, pasta and potatoes for whole grains such as brown rice, millet, oats, quinoa and buckwheat.
"And eat plenty of vegetables, especially the green leafy variety which contain calcium and magnesium," adds Julie. Monitoring your cholesterol is a simple but effective way to prevent heart disease.
Watch your waist
Being overweight increases your risk of developing heart disease, but your body shape can have an impact too. "People who carry weight on their waistline are more vulnerable to heart disease than those that carry it on their hips," says health expert and personal trainer Peter Lemon. "That’s why exercise is extremely important when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease."
The NHS recommends the ideal waistline for women is under 31.5 inches, so it’s time to take action if yours is more than this. To whittle that waist, you should eat a healthy diet and Peter advises 150 minutes of exercise a week – that’s just 30 minutes a day.
Do things that get your heart rate up, from fast walking to running, cycling and swimming, then combine this with daily squats."It’s the best exercise for getting a flatter stomach," he advises, and you can do them anywhere.
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