We all know that it’s important to look after our heart, but it can be difficult to know how.
It’s never too late to begin taking steps to look after your heart; and through a few, simple lifestyle changes, you can improve your heart health.
1. Ditch the salt
Consuming too much salt can raise your blood pressure, and this can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Watch out for salty foods, such as crisps, bacon and cheese. Look for substitutes where you can, for example, instead of snacking on crisps try nuts or fresh fruit?
Lots of people turn to salt to add flavour to dishes, but there are lots of healthier alternatives and you can use a variety of herbs and spices to keep your food flavoursome, instead.
Becoming familiar with food labels and what they mean can help you monitor your salt intake, too. Food packaging usually includes a traffic light system including nutritional value – try to opt for healthier foods that are green for their salt portion.
2. Be mindful of your alcohol intake
Drinking too much alcohol can be harmful to your heart, as it raises your blood pressure and can increase your weight.
As a general guide, aim for no more than 14 units of alcohol each week. Some of our favourite alcoholic beverages have more units than you may think: A 330ml bottle of beer contains 1.6 units and a standard glass of wine has 2.2 units.
It’s really important to be sensible with your consumption and spread these units out over the week. Aim for a few alcohol-free days, too.
3. Get active everyday
Regular exercise can boost your heart health – aim to get active each day and build up to a total of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity (such as a brisk walk, dancing or cycling) each week.
Exercise can help, even if you already have a heart condition. If you do have a pre-existing condition, make sure you speak to your doctor before exercising.
Exercise can be fun too – why not join an online dancing or aerobics class with a few friends?
Exercise can also be done from the comfort of one's own home! Read our guide to Easy Home Exercises for the Elderly, which includes yoga, pilates, dance and chair-based exercises.
4. Keep any stress at bay
If you’re stressed, you may be more likely to turn to unhealthy habits, like smoking, drinking or eating unhealthily. Whilst it’s not yet clear if stress alone affects your heart health, the unhealthy habits it can lead to will.
Fortunately, there’s lots of ways to keep your stress levels low, such as mindfulness, speaking to loved ones or making lists to organise your thoughts.
Exercise can also be a great stress buster: if you feel yourself getting stressed, why not head out for a brisk walk? It can help clear your thoughts and heading outside has a heap of benefits for your mental health; such as boosting your mood, improving your self-esteem and giving you a greater sense of satisfaction with life.
5. Re-connect with old friends
According to some studies, loneliness can affect your heart health by raising your blood pressure. Loneliness can also increase your stress hormone – cortisol – and this can negatively impact your heart.
Even though we may not be able to physically see our loved ones right now, there’s lots of ways to connect with your family, and re-connect with old friends. Social media and video calls help us keep in regular contact. There’s also plenty of online classes available if you’re feeling lonely – a quick search online pulls up lots of online groups.
Feeling lonely can also have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Loneliness can increase your risk of certain mental health problems, including anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.
Heart-friendly foods for you to include in your diet:
Eating high-fibre foods may also help to lower your risk of heart disease.
Try to include wholemeal options like muesli, porridge or wholegrain toast with boiled eggs.
Sandwiches with brown or wholemeal bread, with fillings such as lean meats (ham, beef, turkey and chicken without the skin), and moderate amounts of cheeses like mozzarella or low-fat cream cheese.
Salads can be a good option too, especially if they include some starchy, wholegrain foods such as rice, pasta or couscous.
Oily fish – like salmon or tuna – is rich in omega-3, which can help keep your heart healthy, so aim to have at least two portions of these type of fish each week. Pair it with roasted vegetables cooked in vegetable oil and wholegrain foods like rice and pasta.Fresh fruit, unsalted nuts and popcorn.
Fresh fruit, unsalted nuts and popcorn.