WELLBEING: Boost your heart health

It's all about hearts this month: long after Valentine's Day is over, the focus will still be firmly on National Heart Month. There's a reason the heart is used to symbolise love and life. It plays several crucial roles acting as a powerful pump to keep blood moving around the body, delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to the cells and removing waste products. It's so important to keep your heart healthy whatever your age, ethnicity or family history. How healthy is your heart and how do you plan on keeping it fit and strong? There are several ways to help protect against heart disease and heart attack. Start by knowing your family health history, become more active and eat nutritious food. If you smoke, seriously consider giving up! Also try to minimise lifestyle stress in all their forms. Here are some tips we hope will help.

HEALTHY DIET FOR A HEALTHY HEART

Eating a healthy diet and managing your portion sizes will help keep your weight in check. It will also help reduce cholesterol levels and even reduce your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and try to limit your consumption of high sugary drinks and alcohol.

MANAGE STRESS

Most people are unaware stress can be a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease. It can raise your risk of heart disease and even bring on dangerous symptoms such as angina. Some people use smoking, drinking alcohol or comfort eating as a response to stress, all of which can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. Stress can come from anywhere: on-going lack of sleep, pressures at work, unhappy relationships or a negative outlook. If you are experiencing stress on a regular basis it's time to tackle the problem and develop better coping mechanisms. Make positive lifestyle changes including healthier eating, more activity, regular relaxation and "you time". Do whatever you need to do to relax. Whether that is time alone with a book, early nights, engaging in a favourite hobby, doing yoga or walks with the dog/family. It is very important to learn how to relax and manage stress.

STAY ACTIVE FOR HEART HEALTH

Leading an active lifestyle has so many benefits for your health, not least of all your heart. Inactive people are more likely to have a heart attack than their active counterparts and being active helps manage your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and even your mental and emotional health. If you're not active, make it your pledge to start! It's never too late: research shows you can benefit even if you've been sedentary for most of your adult life. Like all muscles, your heart needs exercise to stay fit and strong. Any cardiovascular activity that gets your heart pumping harder is good for you. It's important to do the type of activity you like. Try walking, swimming, riding your bike, hiking, playing tennis or even gardening on a regular basis. Your heart can't tell whether you're in the gym on the treadmill or out walking in the countryside with the grandchildren. To really benefit your heart, add strength exercises two or three times a week. This can be anything which taxes the muscles a little: from working with weights in the gym, using resistance bands or doing bodyweight exercises. It's better to make small changes and stick to them rather than launching into an exercise regime you can't sustain. Make sure your activity choices fit your lifestyle and family commitments, and then stick to them by exercising with a friend and treating exercise as a date in your dairy.

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