September marked Irish Heart Month and we thought we’d follow up with a quick guide on heart health to keep the topic as front and centre as possible. Heart health is something for us all to consider, particularly if aged 40 or above. For me, the scary thing about heart health is that sometimes the symptoms go unnoticed. Only recently, a father at my children’s school in his forties died of a heart attack. And, although genetic factors are likely to play some role, the risk becomes even greater when heredity combine with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking cigarettes or eating an unhealthy diet.
The Facts: Heart disease (or cardiovascular disease) remains the most common cause of death in Ireland. It is currently the cause of one-third of all deaths Ireland, including coronary heart disease, stroke and other circulatory diseases. Worse still, heart failure in Ireland is set to dramatically increase in the future. So, it is crucial that we all takes our own steps to help to prevent becoming yet another statistic.
Take Your Heart Health into Your Hands
We can avoid heart health problems in the future by adopting a healthy lifestyle today. Here are eight heart disease prevention tips to get you started.
1. Exercise for about 30 minutes x 5 days each week: Getting some regular, daily exercise can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. For even more health benefits, stretch it to one hour of aerobic activity five days of the week, such as walking for one hour Monday to Friday. Alternatively, up the intensity and do it in less time, such as three one hour sessions of vigorous activity each week (such as jogging, cycling or a vigorous dance class). In addition, aim to do strength training exercises two or more days a week. If you can’t meet those guidelines, don’t give up: any exercise, no matter how little, still helps. Activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total.
2. Don’t smoke or, if you do, give-up: Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. The good news, though, is that your risk of coronary heart disease significantly reduces one year after quitting smoking, and it drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about 15 years. No matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit. Download our free Quit Smoking Guide here.
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet: A diet rich in vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. Aim to eat lentils, beans, chickpeas, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish as part of a healthy diet. Avoid too much salt and sugars in your diet. Try to limit or avoid saturated fat (ie. too much red meat and cheese) and trans fats (present in many fried and baked processed foods). Healthy fats — such as avocado, nuts, fish, olives and olive oil — can actually help your heart by lowering the bad type of cholesterol. Also, eating two or more servings a week of certain fish, such as salmon and tuna, may decrease your risk of heart disease.
4. Watch your alcohol intake: Try to reduce alcohol to recommended amounts (which may be well under what you are currently drinking). For women, that means just one drink each day and up to two drinks a day for men. One drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 millilitres) of beer, 5 ounces of wine (148 mL), or 1.5 fluid ounces (44mL) of spirits. At that moderate level, alcohol may have a protective effect on your heart, but too much alcohol can become a health hazard. Also, remember that alcohol is a carcinogen so, if you’re looking to prevent cancer then you really should cut down.
5. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight — especially if you carry excess weight around your middle — increases your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — also increases the risk of heart disease. Check out if you are at risk by simply measuring your waist (place the tape one inch above the belly button, or at the narrowest part of your middle). Men are generally considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 37 inches while women’s waists should be no greater than 31.5 inches. Anything over 40 inches for a man, and more than 34 inches for women is deemed ‘high risk’ and is cause for immediate action. If you have not done so already, book an assessment with us.
6. Get enough quality sleep: Did you know that seep deprivation can seriously harm your health? People are surprised to learn that those of us who don’t get enough sleep actually have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Make sleep a priority in your life. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day.
7. Manage stress: Some people cope with stress in unhealthy ways — such as overeating, drinking or smoking. Finding alternative ways to manage stress — such as physical activity, relaxation exercises or meditation — can help improve your health and your risk of heart disease.
8. Get regular health screenings: High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. Regular screening alert you to whether you need to take action or not. For some, medication is necessary and crucial; while others take heed to the warning and manage to stay away from meds by immediately changing their lifestyle to incorporate more exercise and a healthier diet.
9. Get Climbing! FASCINATING RESEARCH: Climbing the stairs can help to decrease your blood pressure. That’s the finding from a new study published in Menopause, which found that stair climbing can lower blood pressure. Researchers recruited post-menopausal women for the study. The women climbed 192 steps two to five times each day, on four days of the week. In just 12 weeks, those women showed a decrease in their systolic blood pressure of 7 mm Hg and a decrease in their diastolic of around 3 mm Hg. But, as well as lowering their BP, the stair climbers also showed a reduction in arterial stiffness (a heart risk factor) and an increase in leg strength. Better heart health!