Heart disease remains one of the biggest killers in the UK, responsible for more than a quarter of all deaths. When people think of heart disease, they typically think of coronary heart disease and heart attacks. Together these may make up the largest threat, but the term also includes stroke, heart failure, cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation.
With a history of stroke in my family, it’s a topic close to my heart (pun intended!) – I even ran the Brighton Marathon in 2012 for the Stroke Association and took part in the British Heart Foundation London to Brighton bike ride in 2013. So to help raise awareness of how to keep heart-healthy, I’ve teamed up with Holland and Barrett to bring you my top tips.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is an umbrella term for disorders of the heart and circulatory system. This includes:
- Coronary heart disease – narrowing of the arteries from fatty deposits
- Heart attack – fatty deposits breaking away, causing a blood clot to your heart
- Stroke – fatty deposits breaking away, causing a blood clot to your brain
- Heart failure – when your heart doesn’t pump blood as efficiently
- Cardiomyopathy – diseases of the heart affecting size and shape, and possibly the electrical systems of the heart
- Atrial fibrillation – irregular beating of the heart
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Risk factors for heart disease include behavioural risks (things within our control) and health risks (things that affect our health).
Behavioural Risk Factors
These are things we can all do something about to help lower our risk of developing heart disease, or lessen the impact of it.
Health Risk Factors
These factors may already exist in your life, but the risk they pose could be managed through behavioural changes or medication.
- Family history
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity)
How to Lower Your Risk
Now obviously there’s not much we can do about health risk factors, but we can hedge our bets with some adjustments in behaviour. Here are my top tips for how to lower your risk of heart disease.
Give up Smoking
You may or may not know that I used to smoke. I gave up when I was 21, having decided that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I don’t think I need to list the many benefits of giving up smoking here, but giving up smoking is probably the single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.Giving up smoking is probably the most important thing you can do to reduce risk of #heartdisease Click To Tweet
Quitting smoking can be hard, but when you have the motivation to do it, it is possible. I actually gave up smoking without any aids, but there are lots of options now for help to quit. For the latest information on quitting smoking, see your GP or go to the NHS Livewell pages.
Be More Active
Current advice for activity levels is 150+ minutes of moderate activity (e.g. walking), or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (e.g. running), per week. As you’ll probably know if you read my training diaries, I’m a huge fan of CrossFit, but I also love to walk, practice yoga, and (when I’m not talking myself out of it) run.Try this at-home #CrossFit inspired #workout to get you on the way to being heart-healthy! Click To Tweet
Try this at-home CrossFit inspired workout to get your heart pumping, and 15 minutes towards your 75 in the bag!
5 minute AMRAP – repeat the following exercises in a circuit, trying to complete as many rounds and reps as possible in the 5 minute period:
15 mountain climbers
Rest for 2 minutes, then repeat two more times. Aim to get the same number of reps for each 5 minute round!
Choose Whole Grains
Whole grains, such as brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa and oats contain important fibre, protein, B vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity (which are both themselves risk factors for heart disease), and also some types of cancer.Try these #wholegrain #foodswaps to help reduce your risk of heart disease: Click To Tweet
Make the following swaps to help you get more whole grains in your diet:
- Buy, or make, whole wheat bread instead of white bread
- Swap white pasta and rice for brown
- Snack on popcorn instead of cereal bars
- Start your day with whole grain cereal rather than the sugary processed kinds – I love the combination of puffed brown rice, spelt flakes and Oat Well crispy hearts!
- Experiment with quinoa, bulgur or buckwheat instead of potatoes or rice with dinner
It’s been known for years that polyunsaturated fats help to lower risk of heart disease, but recent research has gone one further, suggesting that it’s the omega-3 fatty acids we should be focusing on. One study suggests that omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils), while reducing the overall level of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), may actually increase oxidised LDL (free radicals), which can be harmful to health.Aim for a high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids for optimal heart-health... Click To Tweet
This doesn’t mean you should cut out fat – far from it. But because most sources of fat contain both omega-3 and omega-6, you should aim to choose foods that contain more omega-3 than omega-6. This includes fish, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and green leafy vegetables. I add a tablespoon of Clearspring flax oil blend to my post-workout smoothie to give me a boost of 2:1:1 omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.
What do you do to keep on top of your heart health? Do you have any #loveyourheart tips?
This post was written in collaboration with Holland and Barrett. I was not paid to write this post, but I was sent some products from their heart-healthy range to try, which have now become staples in my diet. As always, opinions are my own and not affected by items gifted to me.