We all hope we won’t experience a broken heart, but where we’re helpless to the pitfalls of love, there are things we can do to protect our heart in medical terms. You may think it won’t affect you but as the leading cause of death in the UK, heart disease is responsible for taking a life every six minutes, an average of 244 lives per day. Although it’s widely thought that heart disease is an illness that targets the male population, if a woman has a heart attack under 50 years old, it’s twice as likely to be fatal than if it was a man. Surprised? But before you convince yourself that heartburn is something more serious, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation Julie Ward puts it in perspective: “There are a range of different causes or risk factors for cardiovascular disease. So if you smoke, have high blood pressure or cholesterol, are overweight or physically inactive then your risk will be higher. If you have diabetes or a family history of cardiovascular disease then you’ll also be at greater risk.”
Although the rates for women suffering with heart disease are on the rise, there are plenty of ways to keep the odds in your favour. “Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week such as cycling, walking or swimming,” Julie explains. To keep your heart in optimum health, we take a look at the simple things you can do to beat the odds.
GET THE GIGGLES
According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, laughing really is the best medicine as it reduces stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine) which cause our blood vessels to constrict. In addition to this, showing those pearly whites also causes the release of beta-endorphins and nitric oxide which protects the heart by reducing inflammation and preventing the formation of cholesterol plaque. Rom-com tonight?
CALM DOWN DEAR
Intense periods of stress or shock can trigger such a rush of adrenaline that the heart can’t function effectively, resulting in heart failure or heart attack symptoms. Taking some time out reduces blood pressure and slows down breathing so there’s less need for oxygen.
To keep the mechanics of the heart functioning properly, we have to provide it with the right fuel. Decreasing your salt, alcohol, saturated fats (butter, cheese, processed meats and chocolate) and trans fat (fried foods, biscuits and cakes) will dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease. A diet rich in wholegrains, fruits (citrus and pomegranates reduce the build up of plaque in the arteries and lower blood pressure), vegetables, fish, and dark chocolate (which has a blood-thinning effect) can provide your heart with the nutrients it needs. Although abstaining from alcohol is advisable, the odd glass of red wine can actually improve heart health as it raises the good HDL cholesterol, decreasing inflammation and thinning the blood. Cheers to that.
NAB A NAP
Good quality sleep decreases the work your ticker has to do as blood pressure and heart rate go down when you sleep. Those who are sleepdeprived can have an elevated level of c-reactive protein, which is released with stress and inflammation and results in an increased risk of heart disease. Aim to get at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep each night; this will also help to deter bad food choices when tired.
KEEP ON MOVING
At the heart (excuse the pun) of good health is exercise and research has shown that aerobic activities will work the heart the same way as the rest of the body – by making the muscles stronger. As clogs in the arteries can cause heart attacks, maintaining physical activity will allow better blood flow to the small vessels, keeping them clear and flushing out bad cholesterol (LDL). Depending on fitness levels, circuit training is the best form of exercise for cardiovascular health. As you push yourself at high intensity, the blood pumps harder challenging and improving the elasticity of the arterial wall, making it stronger.
PUT THE KETTLE ON
Green and black tea contain compounds that decrease levels of bad cholesterol and improve arterial function. Studies have shown that the hot beverage also widens the artery that runs from your shoulder to your elbow by four percent within 30 minutes, reducing the risk of blood clots – something that isn’t achieved through hot water or caffeine.
HAVE A SUNNY DISPOSITION
You don’t need to whitewash all negativity, but looking on the brighter side of life has been known to lower the risk of heart disease, especially if it runs in the family. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, those who have a sense of well-being have a healthier approach to life overall. They were more likely to exercise, eat a balanced diet, sleep enough and have limited stress levels. Does that glass look half full to you!
You may not think it but gum disease can have a deadly effect on your heart. If your knashers are a breeding ground for bacteria, your immune system is on constant overdrive which taxes your vital organs including your heart. According to research, a woman is twice as likely to have a heart attack if she has gum disease. So get brushing ladies.}