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How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

10 Ways to Reduce your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects around 7 million people in the UK and causes 160,000 deaths each year, which is more than a quarter of all deaths. In Ireland, there are approximately 10,000 deaths each year from CVD which represents 36% of total deaths. Poor diet, smoking, obesity and high blood pressure are some of the driving factors and attribute to a large percentage of these deaths. Learn how to keep your heart healthy through diet and lifestyle to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for a collection of conditions relating to the heart, blood vessels and circulation. These include high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, angina (when blood supply to the heart is restricted) and congestive heart failure (a condition that affects the pumping power of your heart).

What are the risks of Cardiovascular Disease?

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes and poor blood sugar regulation
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet and nutritional deficiencies
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drinking excessive alcohol and caffeine
  • Being inactive and lack of exercise
  • Chronic stress
  • Family history – your risk may increase if close blood relatives experienced early heart disease

Having more than one risk factor means your overall risk of CVD is much higher.

What are the signs of an unhealthy heart?

  • Shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • Dizziness, fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Nausea, vomiting, sweating
  • Chest pain (with or without exertion) – pressure, tightness or squeezing in the centre of chest
  • Pain in the abdomen, legs, arms, back, neck or jaw
  • An overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to a panic attack)
  • Being unable to lift limbs or numbness to limbs
  • Drooping of one side of the face or an inability to smile
  • Confusion

How to improve heart health

  1. Stop smoking as it causes irreparable damage to your lungs and blood vessels. The toxic chemicals in cigarettes can thicken your blood, increasing the formation of plaques and clots in your veins and arteries which could lead to blockages. Cigarettes also contain carbon monoxide which reduces oxygen availability in the body.
  2. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Aside from causing acidity and inflammation in the body, both of these substances increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Caffeine can also cause palpitations and reduce blood flow in the arteries as it blocks the hormone which keeps your arteries wide open.
  3. Manage your stress by making time for relaxation and self-care. When you get stressed, your body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Both of these stress hormones are involved in heart rate and blood pressure regulation. Chronic stress increases your risk of high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. Learn how to relieve stress naturally.
  4. Exercise daily as it’s essential for cardiovascular health. Doing a combination of cardio training (walking, running, swimming, aerobic-style fitness) and weight-bearing exercises helps strengthen your muscles, including your heart muscle. It also improves circulation and your heart’s ability to pump blood and move oxygen into your cells more efficiently. Exercise also helps with blood sugar regulation, weight management and reducing stress levels. Listen to exercise myths podcast.
  5. Improve your diet and optimise your nutrient intakeCut out high-sugar foods, refined carbohydrates (breads, pasta, pastries, biscuits, pies, pizzas, cereals), fried foods, junk food, trans fats (margarine, cooking oils like rapeseed and vegetable oil, baked goods), pasteurised dairy products, deli meats (salami, ham, chorizo) and red meat as these foods contribute to poor cardiovascular health. Eat a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, quality protein (lentils, beans, peas, nuts), healthy fats (avocado, nut butters, seeds) and wholegrains (quinoa, millet, buckwheat, wholegrain rice).
  6. Replace table salt with rock salt, natural sea salt or a plant salt. Table salt is toxic to the body and it causes blood pressure to rise and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially heart attacks and strokes.
  7. Increase your antioxidant levels through diet and supplementation. Antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and A, CoQ10, beta-carotene and bioflavonoids protect your blood vessels from the damage caused by plaques (fatty deposits). Fruit and vegetables contain an abundance of antioxidants.
  8. Keep your weight in check and lose weight if obesity is an issue. Obesity can cause your blood pressure to rise, plaques to form in your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. By eating the right foods, eliminating bad dietary habits and doing regular exercise, your weight should naturally come down. Learn more about healthy weight loss.
  9. Stay hydrated by drinking sufficient fluids including filtered water and herbal teas. When your body is dehydrated, your blood volume decreases which means your heart has to beat faster to keep blood circulating. As a result, both your heart rate and blood pressure also rise.
  10. Add herbs and spices to your food to improve circulation and support heart health including cayenne, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon and coriander. These aromatics can help reduce inflammation, prevent blood clots, promote blood flow and maintain blood pressure in the body.

Optimise heart health through diet and lifestyle

Prevent cardiovascular disease by optimising your heart health through diet and lifestyle. Reduce your risk factor by quitting smoking, alcohol and caffeine. Eat a nutritious diet, up your antioxidant intake, add circulatory herbs and spices to your food and do regular exercise to keep your blood vessels healthy and your weight in check.

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