February is Heart Month – the perfect time to give your heart a little extra care and attention.
Editor Jane Garton looks at 7 easy ways to tweak your lifestyle to help keep your ticker working at its best.
CHECK YOUR DIET
The secret is to go easy on foods that are bad for your heart while increasing your intake of good ones. Foods to cut down on include saturated fats, foods with high salt content and alcohol. For top marks we should be aiming for at least five portions of fruit and veg a day, oily fish once a week and wholegrain options whenever we can.[I]
Firm favourites in the fruit bowl, bananas are well worth getting hearty about. They are rich in potassium[ii], which research shows can help to keep a check on blood pressure. Slice them into fruit salads or whip them into shakes and smoothies.
CUT DOWN ON FAT
Stand up to one of the heart’s biggest enemies, fat, by using an oil-water spray to cook. Simply fill a spray bottle with 7/8th water and 1/8th of heart-healthy oil such as rapeseed or olive and use to coat a griddle or roasting pan.
People with heart disease who meditate for 20 minutes a day are 48 per cent less likely to die prematurely of a heart attack or stroke according to a study by the American Heart Association[iii]. Indeed the AHA now recommends meditation for the heart saying it can help reduce stress and blood pressure as well as lowering levels of stress hormones linked to a higher risk of heart attacks.
CLEAN THOSE TEETH
Research shows that gum disease may be linked with an increased risk of a heart attack[iv]. The theory is that bacteria from dental plaque seep into the bloodstream via inflamed gums and produce enzymes that make blood platelets stickier and more likely to clot, leading to hardening of the arteries. The message is simple; keep those appointments with your hygienist and floss and brush twice a day.
WATCH WAIST SIZE
If your waist measures more than 32in if you are a woman and 37in if you are a man, up goes your heart attack risk. The reason? Fat around the middle increases hormones that affect how you use insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance (when your body makes but doesn’t use insulin properly). This in turn can cause diabetes, which increases your risk of heart disease.
OVER 40? GET A HEALTH CHECK
Also called a heart health assessment or cardiovascular risk assessment, a health check is an assessment carried out by your GP or practice nurse to find out your risk of coronary heart disease, and is available to anyone over 40.
Based on your results, your GP or nurse will suggest self-help measures to keep your heart healthy, and whether you need to consider treatment – such as medicine to protect your heart.