February is heart month, a great time to take stock and make sure we're doing the right thing to keep our hearts healthy. Doing so can help prevent events such as coronary heart disease (CHD), a major cause of death in the UK (around 73, 000 deaths per annum).
Heart conditions like heart disease usually happen when risk factors such as unfavourable cholesterol levels or high blood pressure build up. So take some time and appreciate your ticker with these 5 golden rules:
1) Visit the Mediterranean
When you go grocery shopping that is. The Mediterranean diet has been long hailed as one of the most heart healthy diets in the world, and for good reason. People who live in this region, and consume the diet associated with it, appear to experience less heart disease than those living in the UK and Northern Europe.
Key features of the diet include consumption of olive oil, increased oily fish consumption and unprocessed foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains. Polyunsaturated fats found in oily fish can help reduce our LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, while monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and nuts may reduce LDL and can raise good cholesterol (HDL)!
2) Get moving
Try your best to keep moving, fit and active. Find an activity that you enjoy doing, as you're much more likely to stick to it. Perhaps try yoga with a friend, take on a vigorous spin class at the gym or prefer some 'me' time with a long jog and your favourite music.
Going to the gym three times a week is great, but if you can't manage that, try to incorporate activity into your every day life. Take the stairs, not the lift. Get off the bus/train one stop early and walk. Walk the dog. Cycle to work, there's lots of ways!
3) Do you need to lose weight for your heart?
Reducing your body weight if you're obese/overweight can greatly reduce the risk factors of heart disease. Keeping fit and active (as mentioned previously), and eating a sensible balanced diet will both go a long way to help this goal.
Fibre rich foods will help you keep feeling fuller for longer, especially when paired with adequate fluid intake. Added sugar in foods can be a major antagonist to your waistline, so try to avoid it whenever possible (intrinsic sugars found in fruit and vegetables aren't as bad, considering they usually come packed with fibre and micro nutrients).
If you're unsure if you're medically classified as overweight, try not to measure your BMI as it's considered outdated and doesn't suit those with a higher muscle mass. Instead, ask your health professional for a waist-to-hip ratio measurement. BUPA have a handy calculator on their website which could be a good first port of call if you want to know more.
4) Supplement you life
As great as the Mediterranean diet is, not everyone may be able to achieve this for various reasons. If you can't afford oily fish x3 times a week, if you're vegan or just don't like seafood (despite all it's virtues), perhaps supplements are the way forward. Key supplements to consider include omega-3, with marine based products such as Bio-Fish Oil or Bio-Marine Plus offering superior use to the body. Flaxseed or algae sourced omega-3 offer vegan options. CoEnzyme Q10 is another excellent choice for supporting your heart and is well studied for it's cardio-protective effects. Good absorption is vital with Q10, so opt for an oil based supplement with strong bioavailability evidence (such as Bio Quinone Q10).
5) Combat your vices
Beating some of your bad habits is an impact way to help protect your heart.
Quitting smoking can hugely improve your health. There is a great one stop resource website which includes information on quitting therapies, tips and even smart phone apps to keep you motivated).
Drinking a little is fine and in fact, some studies highlight the benefits of light alcohol consumption to heart health. Excessive drinking on the other hand, can cause damage to the heart muscle, is detrimental for general health and can even contribute to weight gain. Unit recommendations have changed recently, with both males and females now being recommended no more than 14 units per week, with the aim of having a few alcohol free days per week.