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Looking after your heart

16 April 2021

Physical

Posted on: 16 April 2021

The numbers on heart and circulatory diseases are shocking. They cause more than a quarter (27 per cent) of all deaths in the UK; that's more than 160,000 deaths each year – or one death every three minutes (Source: British Heart Foundation).

The main risk factors are high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which are linked to obesity. These conditions are also associated with unhealthy habits like smoking and physical inactivity.

The good news is many of these risk factors can be controlled, treated or modified. Read on for how to make healthy adjustments and simple lifestyle changes that can have a big impact on the overall health of your heart.

High blood pressure

If your blood pressure is consistently too high, it means that your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body, which can lead to serious conditions like heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure rarely has noticeable symptoms. That's why it's so important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. If in doubt, speak to your GP.

The causes vary; sometimes it runs in families and can also worsen with age, but most people develop high blood pressure because of their diet, lifestyle or medical condition. Some things you can control like lifestyle habits, others you can’t. As long as you take care of the things you can control, you’ll help lower your risk.

Managing your weight

Eating right and keeping active can help maintain a healthy weight. This is important because carrying excess fat around your organs can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and conditions like diabetes – all of which are linked with heart disease.

We have lots of Hapi-life articles on diet and exercise – 10 tips that make it easy to eat more fruit and veg and How to make time for exercise are good places to start.

Keep moving

The heart is a muscle, and like any other muscle it needs physical activity to help it work properly. Being inactive can lead to fatty material building up in your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to your organs). If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack.

To reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases, you need to be active every day. Any activity is better than none, and you should try to break up long periods of inactivity like sitting or lying down. Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. This is anything that raises your heart rate, and makes you breathe faster and feel warmer, like brisk walking or cycling.

Kick the habit

Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to people who have never smoked. Smoking cigarettes makes the walls of your arteries sticky from the chemicals, so fatty material can stick to them. If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. Cigarettes are also full of toxic chemicals which harms the rest of your body.

You can get expert help and advice from the NHS’s Stop Smoking Service, or check out our article How to quit smoking for tips on how to get started.

Fear not – there is no expectation to do all of these things at once. Just taking one thing from this list will help improve your heart health.

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