Five ways to keep your heart healthy

Five ways to keep your heart healthy

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death and disability across the globe and while some cannot be anticipated, most are entirely preventable through making healthy lifestyle choices. We explain five top things you can work on every day to keep your heart healthy, from what you eat and how much you move, to whether you smoke and how much alcohol you drink.

1. Quit smoking

If you smoke, the single biggest change you can make to reduce your chances of developing a heart condition is to stop.

Every time you inhale cigarette smoke, the nicotine makes your heart rate and blood pressure go up temporarily, putting extra stress on your heart and forcing it to work harder.

Carbon monoxide enters your lungs and then your bloodstream, stealing oxygen from your red blood cells, so less of it gets to your organs and tissues. It also makes your artery walls hard and stiff, which can increase your risk of a heart attack.

Even if you have smoked for years, it's never too late to quit as your body starts to heal as soon as you smoke your last cigarette. Just 20 minutes after you stop, your blood pressure and heart rate will go down and in 2 to 3 weeks, your blood flow will start to get better. Your odds of heart disease will go down, too. After a year without cigarettes, you're half as likely to get it as you were when you smoked, and after 5 years, it's about the same as someone who never started smoking¹.

2. Eat healthily

Diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your risk of heart disease². Certain foods such as fats, simple carbohydrates, alcohol and sugars can increase your blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and inflammation, all risk factors for heart disease.

The good news is that there are plenty of other foods that you can introduce to your diet if you want to optimise your heart health.

By eating the following list of foods, you will increase your intake of a range of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including Vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries and promotes proper blood clotting. Some of these are also high in dietary nitrates such as potassium which can help reduce blood pressure and decrease arterial stiffness, monounsaturated fats, which can help to lower cholesterol, and Omega 3, which can lead to reduced blood triglycerides.

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Berries
  • Avocados
  • Fatty fish and fish oil
  • Walnuts
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dark chocolate
  • Tomatoes
  • Almonds
  • Seeds
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Green tea

3. Get active

Doing regular exercise will also have a significant impact on your heart health. Aerobic exercise lowers your risk of heart and circulatory diseases by lowering your resting blood pressure and heart rate, improving your cholesterol level and helping you keep to a healthy weight³. It’s recommended you do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.

Strength exercises, or resistance training, can also help as these are designed to make your muscles work harder, taking the demand off your heart. Aim to do exercises involving lifting weights, using resistance equipment such as bands or cables - or even just your own body weight - two to three times a week, giving yourself at least a day’s recovery time in between.

Finally, flexibility and balance exercises such as yoga, pilates and tai chi, can also help heart health by increasing circulation and blood flow. They can help to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels, as well as the heart rate, reducing the risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart disease⁴.

4. Manage your stress

A certain amount of stress can be healthy but if you feel like you’re struggling to cope, it is worth making some changes to your lifestyle.

When we’re stressed our bodies release adrenaline, the ‘fight or flight’ hormone. This makes our hearts beat faster and our blood pressure rise as a way of helping our bodies cope with the situation. Over time, however, high blood pressure can damage your heart, major organs and arteries, increasing your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases⁵.

When you’re feeling stressed, try doing something active like going for a walk or getting some fresh air. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins which trigger a positive feeling in the body and make us feel better. Other things to try include mindfulness exercises such as meditation or yoga, or even just chatting to friends and family about how you’re feeling or making lists to organise your thoughts.

5. Cut down on alcohol

Drinking less alcohol can also help you to lower your cholesterol levels and improve your heart health. It can help prevent heart disease in other ways too, however, by helping to look after your liver, your blood pressure, your weight and your waistline.

When you drink alcohol, it’s broken down and rebuilt into triglycerides and cholesterol in the liver. If your triglyceride levels become too high, they can build up, causing fatty liver disease. This means that the liver can’t remove cholesterol from your blood, so your levels rise. This combination of a high triglyceride level along with low HDL cholesterol is a key contributor to heart disease.

You should aim to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, ideally spread out across the week with some alcohol-free days in between.

Cutting down on alcohol has other benefits too. You’ll probably also notice that your skin looks brighter, you feel more energetic, your mood improves and you sleep better⁶.

How can I tell if my heart is healthy?

My Health Checked has a range of tests that can help you get a deeper understanding of your current or future heart health.

Image of Heart Profile DNA Test: A DNA testing kit for heart health assessment.

Our Heart Profile DNA Test focuses on how your individual heart health is influenced by your genes and can help you find out if you are more likely to develop complications with your heart as you get older.

Using a quick and simple cheek swab, this test will analyse a range of genetic markers that are directly related to your heart and circulatory system and use these to measure your level of risk of developing different cardiovascular conditions.

Image of Heart Profile Blood Test: A blood testing kit for cholesterol and blood sugar analysis.

Alternatively, you can take our Heart Profile Blood Test to assess your current cardiovascular health. With this test, you take a blood sample at home and send it to our laboratory for your cholesterol and blood sugar (glucose) levels to be analysed by our medical experts.

With both tests, you’ll get clear, detailed results within days, along with tailored, actionable advice on how to change your lifestyle or diet to improve your heart health.