Why does heart health matter?


The heart is the beating centre of your body. It pumps blood around the system, providing cells with the oxygen and nutrition they need to survive. A pumping heart is essential for life, but our food, activity and lifestyles can all impact on the healthy function of this vital organ.

Coronary heart disease is the number one killer in the UK. It happens when the vessels that supply blood to the muscle in the heart become narrowed by fatty materials building up on the artery walls; a condition known as atherosclerosis. Because of the restricted blood flow, the heart muscles don’t get the oxygen they need to pump effectively, which can lead to chest pain, angina and potentially a heart attack.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, happens when one of the coronary arteries that supplies blood to the heart muscles gets blocked. This can happen when a piece of the fatty deposits breaks off, leading to a blood clot forming. The clot or thrombosis can cut off the supply of blood to an area of muscle. Without swift clot-busting treatment, the heart muscle can be permanently damaged.

What are the signs of a heart attack?

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest that doesn’t go away
  • The pain may feel like a heavy or crushing discomfort
  • The pain can spread into the arms, or into the neck and jaw
  • You may feel breathless
  • You may feel unwell, sick or faint
  • You may appear pale, clammy or distressed
  • You may feel that your heart is racing
  • Act fast if you are worried about chest pain, prompt treatment can prevent heart damage and could save your life. Call 999 immediately.

    How to keep your heart healthy

    You and your doctor can work together to help protect your heart. By changing your lifestyle and having regular check-ups to keep an eye out for diabetes, high cholesterol levels and hypertension, you can help maintain your heart health.

    Stop smoking: Smokers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, so quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to boost your heart health. So see your GP for help and support to quit.

    Check your blood pressure: Hypertension isn’t something you’re always aware of, your blood pressure could be sky high and you may be totally asymptomatic. So, if you haven’t had a health check for some time, make an appointment to see your GP or Practice Nurse.

    Manage your diabetes: Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, however with careful control of blood sugars you can minimise the danger. Getting to a healthy weight, eating well and taking medication regularly can all improve diabetes control.

    Live an active life: Regular activity will help you maintain a healthy weight, control your blood pressure and keep you heart pumping. You don’t have to join a gym or dress in lycra; long walks with the dogs, games with the grandkids and taking the stairs instead of the lifts can all make a difference.

    Hit a healthy weight: Obesity can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, particularly if the extra weight settles around your midriff. Try and get to a BMI of between 20 and 25, but if that seems overwhelming, remember that even small changes can make a real difference to your health and wellbeing.

    Food for a fit heart: Eating a balanced diet can improve the health of your body and your heart.

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Choose wholegrains instead of white starchy carbs
  • Aim for healthy fats in avocado, nuts and oily fish instead of saturated fats from butter, cheese and cream
  • Pick lean sources of protein and avoid processed foods and too much red meat
  • Avoid sugary snacks, treats and fast foods
  • Reduce salt: Cutting back on the salt you sprinkle on your food and the hidden salt on sauces, soups and ready meals is great for your blood pressure.

    Moderate your alcohol intake: Try to stick recommended levels and don’t binge-drink large amounts. It is better to have a little regularly, rather than indulging in a big blow-out every now and then. The British Heart Foundation recommends:

  • Men should not regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day
  • Women should not regularly drink more than 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day
  • Stressbusting: Stress and depression can increase the risk of heart disease for people who have depression. If you’re struggling, see your doctor for support.

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