Every organ is important, but few matter more than the heart. With cardiovascular disease affecting about 7 million people in the UK alone, it is one of the nation’s most significant health problems, costing an estimated £19 billion to the national economy through lost productivity, hospital treatment and prescriptions as well as premature death.
Heart Month is a campaign launched by the British Heart Foundation to raise awareness about heart conditions and how best to prevent them. So what can you do to keep your heart healthy? Read on for our top three tips.
Maintaining a balanced, healthy diet and exercise routine is one of the most important ways to keep your heart safe. According to statistics, about one in every four adults in the UK is obese and this can have a very serious effect on the health of your heart. Aside from placing extra strain on the body in general, obesity increases your risk of having a build-up of fatty deposits (cholesterol) in your arteries, which can seriously restrict the heart’s ability to pump blood and keep your body moving. Eating more salad and less greasy food is an excellent way to start cutting back, and adding in even a 10-minute walk every day will lead to results over time. Getting fit is an excellent way to get a healthy heart and once you get into the swing of it, it’ll quickly become a fun part of your routine.
Smoking seriously increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease; it damages the arteries and reduces oxygen levels in your blood, meaning that the already suffering heart has to pump faster and faster. Quitting smoking can literally be a life-changing decision, and you will feel the effects at once. Recent research has found that after twenty minutes without a cigarette your blood pressure and pulse will return to normal, by eight hours the nicotine and carbon dioxide in your body will have halved, and by the end of the first day without smoking your body will be completely free from carbon monoxide. It can be difficult to quit, especially in the beginning, but over time your body will improve and after around five years of not smoking, the risk of related illness will begin to drop. So quit today, feel the benefits at once, and allow your heart the time it needs to keep you healthy.
Long-term heavy drinking can weaken your heart muscles and prevent it from contracting properly. Your heart suffers and cannot pump enough blood and this leads to symptoms such as shortness of breath, tiredness and, in severe cases, heart failure. And it isn’t just long-term drinking that can damage your health - binge drinking, even if you only drink on rare occasions, can also affect blood pressure and the effectiveness of the heart and arteries. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely cut out drinking - and some research has suggested that doing so can be bad for you anyway - but it does mean that limiting the amount you drink and avoiding sudden nights or weekends of excess can be a big healthy heart bonus.
If you think that you might be at risk, or if you feel that you could stand to improve the condition of your heart then visit the British Heart Foundation’s Heart Month page and consider joining the February-long campaign to improve the nation’s heart health. Sign up for the British Heart Foundation’s 10 minute challenge here .