Heart health: How to keep your ticker in good shape
We should all be looking after our hearts and it's easier than you might think. This Heart Month Ella Walker reveals how to give one of your body's most important muscles some tender loving care.
February is Heart Month - and we could all benefit from doing our bit to keep our tickers in top-top shape. Here are seven simple things to keep in mind.
BE SALT SAVVY
Keep a close eye on your salt intake. Official guidelines advise that adults eat no more than 6g a day, but much of the salt we consume is 'hidden', so most of the time, if you're adding salt to cooking and to flavour meals, you're probably getting far too much. Salt raises blood pressure, putting extra stress on the heart and is a major factor in stroke and heart disease. Try adding flavour by using spices instead. Many have extra health benefits, like easing colds or being packed with antioxidants, while cayenne pepper has been proven to help fight heart disease.
Research shows that people with gum disease are twice as likely to suffer with heart problems, due to bacteria from the mouth entering the blood stream. Keep on top of your oral hygiene by brushing teeth for two minutes, twice a day, flossing, avoiding too much sugar - and not avoiding those dental check-ups.
Eating plenty of fish (not the kind in batter from the chip shop) is the best way to get lots of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet, proven to significantly boost heart health.
TAKE A BREAK
There is no evidence to suggest stress actually causes coronary heart disease or heart attacks, but the British Heart Foundation points out that if you have coronary heart disease and experience feelings of anxiety or stress, it may bring on symptoms like angina (chest pains). Make sure you find a way of relaxing, be that yoga or simply watching telly.
We're always told exercising is good for our hearts, and with good reason - basically, your heart is a muscle, and to keep it strong, you need to keep working it. Generally, medical experts suggest at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. It might sound a lot, but half an hour, five days a week can easily be fitted into your schedule.
It's okay to enjoy some booze, but just keep to the recommended amounts, because too much can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle, and play a part in other diseases such as stroke, liver problems and some cancers. Alcohol is also high in calories, possibly leading to weight gain. Guidelines recommend no more than two to three units a day for women (a pint), and three to four for men (a pint and a half).
Blueberries and strawberries contain flavonoids, antioxidant compounds which can protect against heart disease, and experts recently discovered that women eating them three times a week were a third less likely to suffer a heart attack than those only eating them once a month. It doesn't just have to be berries though; eating any fruit on a daily basis will dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease.