Ramsay Health Care | 23/11/2015

6 lifestyle choices to help prevent heart disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the UK's single biggest killer. It is also the leading cause of death worldwide. In the UK more than one in seven men and nearly one in ten women die from coronary heart disease. CHD is responsible for nearly 70,000 deaths in the UK each year, an average of 190 people each day, or one death every eight minutes. Most deaths from coronary heart disease are caused by a heart attack¹.

So what contributes to heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is usually caused by a build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the coronary arteries around the heart that makes these arteries narrower and restricts the flow of blood to the heart muscle.

Blood pressure, cholesterol level and diabetes are important factors of heart disease.High blood pressure (hypertension) puts a strain on your heart and can lead to CHD. Cholesterol is a fat made by the liver from the saturated fat in your diet and builds up on the arteries. Diabetes can more than double your risk of developing CHD² because it may cause the lining of the blood vessels to become thicker, which can restrict blood flow.

What measures can you take to prevent heart disease?

Keeping a healthy heart is the most important thing you can do to prevent heart disease. This involves lowering your blood pressure, your cholesterol level sand your risk of developing diabetes.

There are a number of lifestyle choices you can make that will help reduce these key factors to prevent heart disease.

1. No smoking 

If you're a smoker, stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to protect the health of your heart.

Lifetime smoking roughly doubles your risk of developing heart disease³. The chemicals in tobacco get into your bloodstream from the lungs and damage the lining of your arteries. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and this means your heart has to pump harder to supply your body with the oxygen it needs. Additionally the nicotine in cigarettes stimulates your body to produce adrenaline, which makes your heartbeat faster and raises your blood pressure, making your heart work harder.

By quitting smoking you’ll not only feel better but you’ll have more money in your pocket to spend on other things that you enjoy.

2. Healthy eating

A healthy diet can help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. By eating a balanced diet you can affect controllable risk factors of heart disease such as weight gain, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the possibility of developing diabetes.

A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, which should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains. A varied diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish is associated with approximately 18% lower risk of having heart attack⁴.

a) Five a day

A well-balanced diet should include at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. You should try to vary the types of fruit and vegetables you eat.

They can be fresh, frozen, dried or tinned. Pure unsweetened fruit juice, pulses and beans count as a portion, but they only make up a maximum of one of your five a day, however much you eat in one day.

b) Limit salt intake

You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than six (0.2oz) a day as too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Six grams of salt is about one teaspoonful. Even a modest reduction in intake can make quite a big difference. Simply checking food labels and choosing foods with lower salt options can make a big difference. Also, try not to add salt to your food at the table.

c) Avoid saturated fats, include unsaturated fats.

There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid food containing saturated fats because these will increase the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood. If you eat meat, it is best to eat lean meat, or poultry such as chicken. Restrict your intake of cheeses, full-cream milk, fried food and butter.

A balanced diet should include unsaturated fats that are found in oily fish (recommended two to three times a week), avocados, nuts, seeds and sunflower, rapeseed,olive and vegetable oils. Unsaturated fats have been shown to increase the levels of good cholesterol and help reduce any blockage in your arteries.

d) Avoid too much sugar

You should also try to avoid too much sugar in your diet. A high intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, lipid disorders and high blood pressure⁵.

Sugar contributes to the inflammation of your arterial walls by generating an insulin spike that can damage the endothelial lining of blood vessels and cause heart disease. Also excessive sugar consumption can also cause weight gain. Weight gain, combined with sustained high insulin levels, can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes which further increases your risk of heart disease⁶.

You should be aware of high fructose corn syrup that is used in thousands of foods from ketchup and tomato sauce to soft drinks and crackers. Try using natural sweeteners such as fruit juice, raw or dried apples, coconut, raisins or dates or spices such as cinnamon. Eating small portions often may reduce your desire for sweets. Reduce your alcohol content as alcohol contains a large amount of hidden sugar.

3. Moderate alcohol consumption

The recommended daily amount of alcohol for men is three to four units a day and two to three units for women. If you drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol it can have a harmful effect on your heart. For example, it can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure and also cause damage to your heart muscle. Alcohol is also high in calories so it can lead to weight gain and obesity. 

However, there is a cardio-protective effect of moderate alcohol consumption⁴. If you drink, you should limit your consumption to the guidelines and you should not increase the amount you already drink. If you don’t already drink alcohol it’s not recommended that you start using alcohol because of the association of heavy alcohol consumption with a number of disease conditions and increased mortality.

4. Be physically active

Physical activity can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient, lower your cholesterol level, keep your blood pressure at a healthy level and help you control your weight.

Research has shown that three to four sessions per week, lasting on average 40 minutes per session, and involving moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level⁷.

If you’re currently not physically active then you should start off slowly, maybe attempting a ten minute workout initially and building your exercise period up over time.

5. Keep to a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of factors that heighten your risk of heart disease including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes.

Obesity is highly prevalent in the UK and is on the increase. Good nutrition,controlling calorie intake and physical activity are essential to maintain a healthy weight.

Your body mass index (BMI) and your waist measurement are used to assess if you need to lose weight. The increased health risk of getting heart disease and type 2 diabetes is most marked when the excess fat is mainly around your middle rather than on your hips and thighs. You can calculate your BMI and see waist measurements with risk on the British Heart Foundation website⁸.

6. Reduce stress

Stress is not a direct risk factor for heart disease but it may contribute to your risk level. It depends on your coping mechanisms. For example, some people cope with stress by smoking, drinking too much alcohol and overeating. If you have heart disease and feel stressed or anxious then the stress may bring on symptoms like angina.

To manage your stress you could learn new techniques such as maintaining a balanced diet, exercising and discovering how to relax.

About Ramsay Health Care treatment and diagnosis of heart disease

Ramsay offers a comprehensive range of state of the art investigations for the detection of disease of the heart arteries, including CT coronary angiography and diagnostic invasive coronary angiography (usually performed via the radial artery). In addition for treatment an expert team delivering coronary stent insertion.

Some of the highest qualified and experienced cardiology consultants in the UK work with Ramsay Health Care to provide the best individual healthcare for your needs.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss heart disease diagnosis in more detail or to find out more about our cardiology services.



³ http://patient.info/health/preventing-cardiovascular-diseases

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