Five ‘top tips’ to protect your heart against disease – expert

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Cardiac rehabilitation lead Helen Alexander shared five top tips for a healthy heart.

Move your body

“Being physically active can help keep your heart healthy by controlling your blood pressure and improving your cholesterol profile,” said Alexander. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are damaging to the artery walls, enabling plaque to settle along either side, thereby restricting the passageway of blood.

The narrowing of the arteries is known as atherosclerosis, which is a prerequisite for heart disease.

By effectively managing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, you can reduce your risk of heart and circulatory disease from developing.

“Being physically active also helps in the maintenance of a healthy body weight which reduces the risk of heart disease,” added Alexander.

“If you are new to exercise, start by building in more activity during your day by using the stairs rather than the lift, walking more and using the car less,” Alexander advised.

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“When you are being active, you will get more benefit if you are able to achieve a pace that makes you feel warm and comfortably breathless.”

Eat right

Another way to prevent heart problems is to eat a “healthy balanced diet”.

Alexander elaborated: “Try to keep your intake of saturated fats (normally found in animal products, as well as high-fat dairy and sweet treats) low by replacing them with unsaturated fats (good sources include oily fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds).

“Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates should absolutely form part of a healthy diet.

“They’re great for energy and contain important nutrients and fibre, which are essential for heart health.”

Alexander advised to “look for wholegrain” varieties, which slowly release energy.

“Fruit and vegetables should be the cornerstone of all heart-healthy diets as these have a huge amount of anti-inflammatory properties and high amount of dietary fibre,” she added.

“Always try to eat a ‘rainbow’ of fruit and vegetables to get lots of variety into your diet.”

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Mental health

Alexander emphasised: “Looking after our mental fitness is just as important as looking after our physical health.

“We all have some day-to-day stress, but if your stress levels get beyond what you can cope with it can affect you physically.

“Ongoing high stress levels can contribute to high blood pressure which, as previously mentioned, can increase your risk of heart disease by damaging artery walls.”

Feelings of stress can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as comfort eating unhealthy foods.

“Think about which activities make you feel calm and content and make some time for them,” Alexander advised.

Be a quitter

“There are chemicals in cigarettes which can cause blood to thicken… [which can lead to] potential clogging,” said Alexander.

“It is not easy giving up smoking, but help is available. You are four times more likely to give up if you get professional help.

“You can seek support from your GP, local pharmacist or local stop smoking team.”

Drop the pounds

Alexander’s last recommendation to help prevent heart disease is to lose “even a small” amount of weight if you are currently overweight.

Nuffield Health Physiotherapy Manager and Cardiac Rehabilitation Lead Helen Alexander provided commentary on behalf of this National Heart Health Month.

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