The heart of the matter: Top tips for cardiovascular health

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women. Many people have risk factors that may predispose them to heart disease; however it is thought that four out of five deaths due to the disease are preventable. Although you cannot change predisposing factors such as your age, gender or family history, changing other factors in your life can make a difference to your heart’s health. Here are five steps you can take to help reduce your risk of heart disease.

1. Change in diet

One of the best ways to decrease your risk of heart disease is to eat a heart-healthy diet. This means reducing the amount of saturated fat, cholesterol and salt that you are eating, and ensure a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and fiber. It has been suggested a Mediterranean style diet rich in fish, olive oil, nuts and fruit and vegetables could have dramatic improvements on heart health. Saturated fat found in food such as red meat and dairy products should be avoided, as should trans-fat, found in deep fried foods, margarines and crackers.

2. Exercise

Regular exercise has many health benefits, and just 30 minutes a day could improve your heart’s health. Exercise can reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol and can help prevent diabetes, all risk factors for heart disease. You don’t have to do the 30 minutes all at once; you could do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. Brisk walking, cycling, swimming, running and anything else that gets your body using more oxygen will make your heart stronger.

3. Stop smoking

Lifetime smoking can double your risk of heart disease, and can also increase your chance of a stroke or developing lung cancer. Try eliminating one cigarette a day at a time. Once you have quit entirely, it won’t be long before your risk of heart disease has dramatically reduced, and you’ll be likely to notice other health benefits too!

4. Maintaining a healthy weight

If you are overweight, you are more likely to have high blood pressure, cholesterol and a greater risk of diabetes, all of which may lead to heart disease. An effective way to determine whether you are overweight is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). A healthy BMI is classed as between 18.5 and 24.9; BMIs of 25 or over are generally associated with high body fat, blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Losing weight through diet and exercise can decrease your risk.

5. Regular health screenings

It is important that you know how healthy your body is so that you can minimise risk factors for heart disease. A blood pressure check should be performed frequently, usually at least every two years. Cholesterol levels should be monitored every five years, although this may need to be more frequent if you are predisposed to heart disease. Diabetes screenings are recommended for those who are overweight or have a family history of heart disease.

Speak with your doctor if you have any concern over your heart health or to find out more about how you can reduce your risk of heart disease.