EVERY WOMAN’S GUIDE TO A HEALTHY HEART

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Women, just like men, suffer from heart disease and they need to take great care of their heart health. Follow these essential tips to help you take care of your body’s most important muscle – your heart.

Many people still hold the misconception that heart disease is a male problem, but women need to take just as much care of their hearts as men. Heart disease kills more women around the globe than breast cancer.

Taking care of your cardiovascular health isn’t just about watching your cholesterol levels – there are many lifestyle habits that can help keep your cardiovascular system healthy and strong.

While a history of heart disease in your family is a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease, you can change your lifestyle to reduce your risk even when there is no known heart disease in the family.

Quit smoking and take these five tips on board to boost your heart health every day. You will enjoy a long healthy and happy life without the debilitating side effects of heart disease; 1that is if you survive a heart attack.

Know your vital statistics Do you know your cholesterol levels? When did you last have your blood pressure checked? A high cholesterol level in your blood can lead to narrowing of your arteries, while high blood pressure puts your heart and blood vessels under extra strain and speeds up hardening of arteries, raising your risk of stroke and heart attack.

Visit your doctor regularly to discover your levels, and get your weight checked too, as being overweight increases blood volume, putting extra strain on your heart and arteries.

Fat cells also produce chemicals that weaken blood vessels. Aim for a body mass index (BMI), which relates your weight to your height, of 20 to 25. Some pharmacies offer these checks and you could find one near you if visiting a doctor is not convenient.

Eat a balanced diet A high-salt or high-sodium diet promotes water retention, which increases blood volume and pressure, so don’t add salt to your food. Cut back on packed and processed foods, where 80 per cent of our sodium intake comes from.

Watch out for surprise offenders such as breakfast cereal and breads, which are very high in sodium content. Potassium can help your body flush out sodium, so have potassium-rich foods daily, such as banana and steamed potatoes. Be aware of your sugar intake too, as studies show eating too much sugar may suppress production of nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax and widen.

Aim for more than your five-a-day portion of fruit and vegetables to get fibre and ensure an antioxidant-rich diet that includes a daily serving of beans and lentils, which have been shown to slash your risk of heart attack. Cut down on saturated fats such as butter, and top up on healthy omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish and olive oil to
to help protect against heart disease.

Exerise regularly Your heart is a muscle so regular exercise will strengthen and help it function well. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. Go for a brisk walk or jog or get off your public transport before you get home or office and walk the rest of the way.

If you drive, choose days when you leave your vehicle at home or park it a distance and walk to your destination. If you can, join a gym or an aerobic class. Add interval training to your gym sessions and you could get the full benefits in a short time.

A Canadian study found 20 minutes of alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery period was just as effective at strengthening the heart as an hour of moderate exercise. You can also try yoga as it slows down breathing and calms the heart.
Create harmony and balance The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol cause your blood pressure to rise, and stress can also make you reach for comfort foods such as crisps, biscuits and chocolate, so take time for relaxation every day.

Wind down before bed by having a warm bath, reading a book, meditating, or praying. Getting less than five hours of sleep a night is linked with a higher risk of heart disease, so aim for around seven hours. Don’t try to avoid stressful conflicts by bottling things up.

A US study shows women who hold back from saying what’s on their minds have a higher risk of heart disease. So if something is bothering you, find a way to air your concerns without confrontation.

Watch your alcohol intake Drinking alcohol can raise your blood pressure as well as lead to weight gain, so stick to the recommended guidelines of one to two units a day. Binge drinking raises your heart attack risk, so after your first or second drink, opt for water or diluted fruit juices when you are at a party where a lot of alcohol is being served.

It is a healthier lifestyle to drink a small glass or two every day than to drink a whole bottle at one sitting over the weekend

Published January 2017

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