There are certain things that you can’t help, that increase your risk of getting heart disease. These are: Getting older: All the tissues of the body are affected by wear and tear as we get older, including the heart and the arteries. This can affect the way that the heart works, and circulation. Family History: Some people are more susceptible to heart disease than others because it runs in the family. Certain gene mutations can lead to the buildup of bad cholesterol in the blood, which causes furring up of the arteries. Your ethnic background: People from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds or South Asian backgrounds are at increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
If any of these apply to you, it just means that you should take extra steps to protect yourself.
BUT, there are many risk factors which you can help. In particular, an unhealthy lifestyle puts you at risk of heart disease and stroke.
Your diet: A balanced diet, low in saturated fat and salt, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, is really important for heart health. Seven out of 10 women eat excessive amounts of salt and 83 per cent of women consume too much saturated fat. Adults in the UK eat about 9.5g of salt per day (1 ½ teaspoons) – the Food Standards Agency advises that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt per day (about 1 teaspoon).
Solution: Nigel Denby, dietician and author of the 7-Day GL diet says; “Stick to the five a day rule, eating at least five pieces of fruit and veg a day. A glass of juice in the morning can count for your first one.” Try and base your diet on wholegrains and other heart-healthy foods such as oily fish, oats, beans, nuts and soya. Cut down on salt and try low sodium versions. Avoid processed food which is usually high in salt and other additives. Look at the fat content of foods by reading the food label. Compare products and select one with a lower fat content, or with the lowest saturated fat level. Recent evidence from 66 published studies, supports the view that consuming flavonoid-rich tea and/or chocolate, in moderation, can be associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.
Your shape: Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. Larger waist size (which reflects the amount of abdominal fat) has been shown to be harmful and increases the likelihood of heart disease, according to Canadian research, whereas larger hip size (which may indicate the amount of lower body muscle) is protective. The waist-to-hip ratio is calculated by dividing the waist measure by the hip measure. The cutoff point for cardiovascular risk factors is less than 0.85 for women and 0.90 for men. A higher number denotes more risk
Solution: Reduce your calorie intake and increase your exercise levels. “The only sure fire way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you use,” says Kathryn Freeland, personal fitness instructor to Cate Blanchett. (www.absolutefitness.co.uk)
Fitness: Exercise is key to maintaining a healthy heart. The government guidelines suggest a minimum of half an hours moderate exercise at least five times a week. Unfortunately, three-quarters of women fail to meet this standard. The optimum amount of exercise for maximum health benefits is one hour of moderate activity, five days a week. Moderate activity includes simple everyday activities like walking, housework, playing with your kids, gardening, climbing stairs, DIY or washing the car.
Solution: Buy a pedometer and gradually work up to taking 10,000 steps a day. Build in exercise into your daily life.
Cholesterol levels: There are two types of cholesterol in the blood. HDL, which is good cholesterol and helps to keep arteries clear, and LDL, which is bad cholesterol and helps to form fatty plaques on the walls of blood vessels. High levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. According to new guidelines by the Joint British Societies, your target is to have a total cholesterol level under 4 millimoles per litre and bad (LDL) Cholesterol of less than 2 mmol/l.
Solution: Reduce levels of saturated fat in your diet. It may be useful for you to start taking statins, which are drugs which cut the body’s production of cholesterol. A pill containing plant substances called sterols can help lower cholesterol, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers studied patients who already were eating a heart-healthy diet and taking statin drugs to control cholesterol. The addition of plant sterols helped further lower total cholesterol and contributed to a nearly 10 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the so-called “bad” cholesterol.
Blood pressure: Hypertension often has no signs or symptoms, but it can be deadly. It is diagnosed when a blood pressure reading consistently exceeds 140/90. More than half of women over the age of 55 suffer from this condition, which can lead to heart failure.
Solution: There are simple ways to measure blood pressure at home and your doctor can prescribe medications to treat high blood pressure. Diet and exercise can also help you reduce your blood pressure.
Your stress levels: Stress and strain is bad for your heart, causing blood pressure to rise.
Solution: Try relaxation techniques, exercise, counselling, time management and, very occasionally, medicines. Not everyone is helped by the same approach, so it’s important to find what works for you and stick with it. Simple breathing exercises, sports, music, reading, engaging in hobbies and going for a walk, can all help to lower stress.
Smoking: This is one of the main avoidable risk factors for heart disease yet 25 per cent of women still smoke and the rate is higher among younger women.
Solution: If you quit, your circulation will improve within hours. Your heart disease risk will also gradually fall although it may take a few years to feel the full benefits. Studies show that people who use nicotine therapy and counselling are more likely to succeed than those who struggle on alone.