Prevention is always better than cure. This
section outlines things you can do to help yourself to a healthier
heart. Even if you've already been diagnosed with heart disease,
making lifestyle changes can help you live a longer, healthier
and more enjoyable life.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle is not about
denying the things you enjoy, making vast changes such as
joining a gym, becoming a vegetarian or eating nothing but
'health foods'. Small, easily achievable adaptations such
as becoming more active in your everyday life and learning
to enjoy fresh, wholesome food can make a tremendous difference
to your wellbeing and improve the health of your heart.
Best of all, most of the steps outlined
improve several different risk factors. For example becoming
more active helps to reduce your blood pressure, improves
your cholesterol level and by boosting your metabolism, helps
control your weight - all of which can significantly reduce
your risk of coronary heart disease. Click on the links to
the right to find out more.
Being active is absolutely essential for
a healthy heart - for the simple reason that your heart is
a muscle. Even if you haven't been active for some time, your
heart can become stronger, so that it is able to pump more
efficiently giving you more stamina and greater energy.
Becoming more active will also improve the
ability of your body's tissues to extract oxygen from your
blood, help you maintain healthy levels of blood fats and
speed your metabolism.
First the good news: a moderate
amount of alcohol can help protect against coronary heart
disease. And the bad? Regular heavy drinking (more than the
number of recommended units), or binge drinking, can increase
your risk. There's no need to forego alcohol altogether -
but it is important to drink sensibly.
Always eat when you drink: take
a tip from the Mediterranean, and always have a meal or snack
when you drink.
Know your limits: To reduce the
risk of coronary heart disease, 1-2 units of alcohol, a day
can be taken. A unit is equal to half a pint of regular strength
beer or lager, one small glass of wine or a small (pub measure)
Watch your glass size: it can be
easy to exceed limits by using a bigger glass.
Mix and match: if you're at a party
or drinking socially, try to have a non-alcoholic drink for
every alcoholic drink you consume. Once you've consumed your
daily units drink only soft or non-alcoholic drinks.
One of the easiest and most enjoyable things
you can do for your heart is to start eating a healthier diet.
The best diet for a healthy heart is rich in fruit and vegetables
(at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day), fibre,
unrefined carbohydrates such a wholegrain cereals and root
vegetables, and low in fatty, sugary foods.
The good news is that, unlike in the past,
when the emphasis was on avoiding certain foods, today the
emphasis is very firmly on choosing foods you can eat to improve
the health of your heart and blood vessels.
Rest and Relaxation
Anxiety and other reactions to stress can
affect the blood vessels and the heart and, although the role
of stress in coronary heart disease is controversial and thought
by some experts to be over-rated, it can certainly do you
no harm to learn to relax and manage stress more effectively.
All of us have to contend with major life
events from time to time such as a divorce, bereavement, job
loss or financial problems. However, there also a wide range
of everyday events (being stuck in traffic, a row with your
partner or a disagreement with someone at work) that can be
stressful - and these everyday irritations may be even more
stressful because they are constant.
One of the most important things you can
do to reduce your risk of heart disease is to stop smoking.
Smokers under age 50 are five times more likely to die of
coronary heart disease than non-smokers.
By stopping, you not only lower your risk
of heart disease but also help reduce your risk of lung diseases
such as cancer, emphysema and bronchitis.
The key to successful quitting is to pick
a method that is right for you. For example, if you are motivated
by other people and enjoy their company, you may find encouragement
and support by joining a group.
If you prefer to go it alone you may find
it helpful to buy a book or tape. Alternatively, you may find
it helpful to use a complementary therapy such as hypnosis,
acupuncture or homeopathy. There are also many aids your doctor
can prescribe - such as nicotine replacement therapy.