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Expert advice on how to keep your heart healthy


Healthy heart tipsGETTY

With strokes and heart disease being a leading cause of death, some action needs to be taken


One person dies from cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) disease every three minutes in the UK – that’s 435 people every day – yet we only think about our hearts when there’s a problem. To mark National Heart Month this month, we asked the experts for their essential guide to protecting your heart, from the moment you wake to the time your head hits the pillow… 

6:30: Rise and shine: 

“Early risers have more time to start the day with a balanced meal including protein and healthy fats,” says Geeta Sidhu-Robb, health coach and nutritionist at Nosh Detox. “Studies suggest those who eat earlier not only lower the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, but also boost their metabolic rate,” she says.

Eggs are a great choice, as they are rich in nutrients that promote heart health. Alternatively, porridge oats contain beta glucans that have been shown to help reduce cholesterol, adds Rob Hobson, nutritionist at Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk). 

 

Early risingGETTY

Early rising will let you get a relaxed start to the day

6:35: Have a good stretch:

Extending muscles can be as good for heart health as physical exercise. A Dutch-American study found yoga poses – asanas – may be as useful as biking or walking in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

6.45: Enjoy an early cuppa: 

“Drinking four cups of tea a day is associated with reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke,” says Dr Tim Bond from the Tea Advisory Panel (TAP).

“Natural plant polyphenols in tea help relax the blood vessels, which controls blood pressure, and protect bad LDL cholesterol from being oxidized, which makes it less harmful.” 

…Don’t add sugar: A large population study in the United States showed those who consumed more than 25 per cent of their daily calories from added sugar had almost three times the risk of dying from heart disease than those who had less than 10 per cent, independent of other risk factors including weight.

7:00: Brush your teeth with an electric brush: 

Several studies have shown people with poor dental hygiene and gum disease are also more likely to suffer from heart disease.

“Tests have shown electric brushes with oscillating heads (rotate in both directions) are up to twice as effective at removing plaque as manual toothbrushes,” explains Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation. “Cleaning in between your teeth is also important – and using an interdental brush is better at removing the plaque from in between the teeth than flossing.”

10:00: Fill your glass: 

Keeping the body hydrated with at least five glasses of water a day is directly related to a reduced risk of heart disease, found a study from Loma Linda University, California. 

11:00: Take a brisk walk:

Middle-aged women who do strenuous activity for 10 minutes, two to three times a week – enough to cause sweating or a fast heartbeat – are 20 per cent less likely to suffer from heart problems, stroke and blood clots than inactive women, say Oxford University researchers.

Those who did gentler exercise – walking, gardening or cycling – four to six times a week, had the same risk reduction.

12:30: Eat lunch: 

The best time to eat lunch is between 12.30pm and 1pm. Never skip it completely – no matter how busy you are, advises Geeta. “Consistency of feeding is a cornerstone of heart health.” But don’t choose a ham sandwich every day, advises Dr Sally Norton, NHS consultant, weight loss expert and founder of VavistaLife.

“Eating a large amount of processed meat can increase heart failure risk by up to 24% – so cut back on salami, ham, sausages, bacon and so on.” 

…Don’t add salt: “Salt puts up blood pressure, leading to an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks,” explains Sonia Pombo, nutritionist and campaign manager at Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH). It is recommended adults should eat less than 6g per day and children even less. Use herbs, spices, chilli, garlic and lemon to meals to add flavour instead of salt. And use the free health app FoodSwitch to find healthier alternatives to salty foods when out shopping.

12:40: Finish off with yoghurt: Women who eat five or more servings of yoghurt a week are less likely to develop high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. The risk was reduced by a fifth, compared with people who ate just one portion of yoghurt a month. 

14:30: Stand up: 

For each hour a day that an adult spends sitting down during their lifetime, the likelihood of developing heart disease goes up by 14 per cent, say scientists from the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

15:00: Snack on nuts: 

A study of more than 200,000 people found those who ate walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans and peanuts two or more times a week were 23 per cent less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 15 per cent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease. 

17:00: Leave work on time:

Those who put in 55 hours or more each week have a 13 per cent increased risk of heart disease compared with those who work the standard 40 hours or less. This is according to data gathered by 25 previous studies involving more than 600,000 men and women in Europe, the US and Australia, who were monitored on average for eight and a half years.

Sitting in officeGETTY

Sitting down at an office desk is proven to elevate risk of heart problems

18:15: Sing along while cooking: 

Several studies suggest singing is beneficial to your heart and lungs because it’s an aerobic activity. It also boosts wellbeing.

18:30: Have fish for dinner: 

“The Omega-3 fats in fish help to prevent blood from clotting, regulate the rhythm of the heartbeat and keep the lining of blood vessels healthy and functioning properly,” explains Tracey Strudwick, nutritional therapist, Nuffield Health.

Eating fish as part of a Mediterranean diet, along with olive oil, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables could help reduce the likelihood of heart attacks by 30 per cent, as well as strokes and deaths from heart disease, according to a study by the University of Barcelona.

But don’t eat too late. “Research has suggested eating dinner after 7pm can contribute to a rise in overnight blood pressure, thus having a negative effect on our heart condition,” explains Geeta. 

…Add “super broccoli” advises Fiona Hunter, nutritionist for Healthspan.

“It looks and tastes like regular broccoli but Beneforte broccoli contains three times more glucoraphanin, a phytochemical believed to reduce the risk heart disease and certain cancers.”

…And round off with cheese: 

A daily portion of 40g can slash the chances of developing heart disease by a staggering 14 per cent, say Chinese researchers. It’s thought the saturated fatty acids in cheese have a beneficial effect. 

…See your GP if you regularly get indigestion: Scientists have discovered those who regularly take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which restrict the acid produced in the stomach, are about 20 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack than others. Long-term use is subject to regular review and over the counter pills should be limited to two weeks.

19:30: Open a book: 

Reading for just six minutes can be enough to reduce stress levels by up to 68 per cent, according to a University of Sussex study. Every hour in front of the TV, however, increases the risk of dying from heart disease by seven per cent, according to a Medical Research Council study. And those watching for four hours a day – the UK average – face a 28 per cent rise in the risk. 

20:00: Try beetroot juice: 

A new Australian study has shown drinking just two nitrate-rich concentrated beetroot shots prevents blood clotting and improves healthy blood flow to and from the heart in older people. To ensure at least 400mg of nitrate, try a 7cl Beet It shot (beet-it.com), £2.19 from Holland & Barrett.

20:30: Treat yourself: 

“Enjoying a few squares of dark chocolate may lower your risk of heart disease,” says Elizabeth Wall, nutritionist at Holland & Barrett. 

“In one study, people who ate chocolate five times or more a week had a lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease. This is attributed to the antioxidant content of cocoa, which is thought to help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of blood clotting, increase blood flow and lower blood pressure.”

21:00: Arrange a date: 

Loneliness increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke by almost a third, according to research from York University. The effect of social isolation is similar to that of anxiety or work-related stress. 

22:00: Take time out: 

“Studies suggest meditation can play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stress,” explains Geeta. “A study of 160,000 people over 30 years found those who find it hard getting to sleep face an increased risk of heart disease, strokes and heart attacks. This is where the meditation can work wonders. It’s the perfect technique to escape technology and relax in time for a good night’s sleep.”

22:30: And so to bed: 

A study by Chicago Medical School found people who manage fewer than six hours of shuteye each night are twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack. Night shift workers are 41 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease, according to findings published online in the British Medical Journal.

It’s not clear whether lack of restorative sleep is to blame, or if unhealthy eating habits and lack of activity are associated with working shifts.

DatingGETTY

Dating can help you keep your heart healthy by combatting loneliness

22:40: Drift off happily: 

Harvard scientists have found a 50 per cent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease between those who scored highest for optimism compared with those 

who scored lowest. After accounting for lifestyle factors, emotional vitality was associated with a 28 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart. 


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