Prevention

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.

Exercise Activities

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.

Alcohol

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) of spirits.

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.

Diet

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.

Smoking

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.

Top^