Heart health

 Cardiovascular disease is the general name for all heart and circulatory conditions put together, including heart failures, strokes and problems with the arteries. 39% of all deaths in the UK were due to cardiovascular disease.
Fatty materials build up on the walls of the blood vessels impairing heart function, causing angina (pain from a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle) and raising the possibility of a heart attack. This is known as heart disease and is still the number one cause of death in the UK, with one in five men and one in six women affected.*
This is followed by cerebrovascular disease as the second biggest killer, another disease of the circulatory system. Here the vessels supplying the brain are affected, either becoming stiff, narrow or weakened causing a stroke either from blockage or from haemorrhage (bleeding). High blood pressure increases your chance of stroke as this damages the blood vessels.

(*All figures from the British Heart Foundation)
Keeping your diet and lifestyle in check is the best thing for supporting your heart and circulatory system.

So what do you need to do?

Eat right, get active, quit smoking. This is the best prevention as well as improving existing conditions. If you’ve weight to lose then let that be a goal to get you started and do it by getting on a healthy eating plan with all the good foods and doing something that gets you moving every day.


For the activity side I recommend building up to 45mins to an hour a day.

Aiming for exercise every day brings it into your lifestyle routine and therefore makes it more likely to happen. It also means that if you miss a day or two you still have plenty throughout the week. And because it needs to happen regularly it is best to find activities you enjoy and that are easy to fit in around your day, or the chances are you’ll give up when your good intentions fade.

So joining a gym is great, but realistically if it’s miles out of your way and takes too long it’s not ideal. What you need is something close at hand, easy to get to, or something you can fit in without thinking too much.
There are two key types of exercise to focus on, muscle strengthening and aerobic heart raising exercise.

Muscle strengthening exercise uses weights or resistance. This helps to build your muscle mass up and helps to keep bones strong. The amount of muscle you have is related to your metabolic rate and the amount of calories your body burns up, helping weight loss. It's good to do this type of exercise a couple of times a week.

Add to this heart raising activity on as many other days as you can to exercise the heart and lungs. 

Here are some ideas that are easy to fit in:

  •  Walking for 45mins a day or more. This is a real calorie burner if you keep up a fast pace.  Walking in open spaces with beautiful scenery can be pleasure in itself. But you can also build it in for a lunch break at work, or on your way to work or shops, simply walking for 25mins in one direction for your lunchtime break and 25minutes back.. Take the bus less, or get off a few stops early and walk.
  •  Getting out for a jog round a block or two takes minutes to get ready and go with little preparation or travel time lost. But do start slowly and at your pace.
  •  Doing an exercise video at home is good for those days that you can’t face getting out. Choose one that raises the heart rate and one that you enjoy, maybe dancing or boxing videos.
  • Going to the gym – this is great if it’s on your way or easy to fit in. But mix what you do to make it more interesting. Studio classes are often easier to stick to and often get the most out of you as you follow the studio leader. 

Your Diet:

The good news is that a heart healthy diet is the same as a standard healthy eating plan. Get your three meals a day and a snack too from these. 

The main concern in the diet for heart health is the level of saturated fats and total fats. Saturated fats are linked to your blood cholesterol levels, and raised LDL cholesterol, that’s the bad cholesterol linked to blocking up your arteries.

So that means move away from using these foods:

  • High saturated and total fat foods: Butter, creams, fried foods, full fat cheese, fatty cuts of meat, processed meats such as sausages, salami and pepperoni, crisps, chips, pies, cakes, biscuits and rich desserts, coconuts and palm oil
  • Salt, don’t use this at the table, just add a little to cooking and watch out on any pre-packaged food, which is often very high in added salt. High salt levels can raise your blood pressure, increasing problems with the circulatory system.
  • Alcohol. Keep this to a controlled minimum or it's fine to leave out altogether. Although a little alcohol in the past was thought protective the advice has now change with no safe level of alcohol advised (UK Chief Medical officer 2016). Alcohol does raise HDL levels, but otherwise those with high blood pressure or high triglyceride levels may find alcohol increases the problems.

Foods that contain cholesterol don’t need to be avoided unless your GP or dietitian tells you to. This is because the cholesterol in our food does not readily convert into blood cholesterol. So eggs, liver, kidney, prawns don’t need to be avoided for this reason, though there is a caution on eating too much liver due to problems with high vitamin A levels.

What to have instead:

  • Meats: use low fat lean meats such as low fat (less than 5%) cuts of beef, take the skin off chicken and turkey, lean cuts of pork with fat removed, ham instead of salami.
  • Dairy: skimmed or semi skimmed milk, use half fat cheese in small portions, low fat plain yoghurt.
  • Fruit instead of deserts.
  • Keep all your total fats down, but these fats are a good substitute for butters, creams and high saturated fat oils, giving you useful nutrients too: avocado, nuts, seeds, oily fish and extra virgin olive oil.

And along with that here’s some foods that are great to add in to support the heart and reduce cholesterol levels

  • Use lots of vegetables in all your meals, as salads and vegetable accompaniment or adding plenty into casseroles, soups, stews, bakes etc. Onions, garlic, sweet peppers, tinned tomatoes, mushrooms are all easy to add and make a good base for adding meats to.
  • Fruit for desserts and snacks instead of high fat sugary options.
  • Use wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholegrain/multigrain pasta, wholemeal pita bread, brown basmati rice and add in beans, pulses, lentils, instead of white breads and rice. These all increase your fibre levels which help to reduce cholesterol
  • Nuts and seeds. Almonds have been found to reduce cholesterol levels and also help with weight loss. Though they are high in fat, it’s not saturated and they are also packed with fibre and nutrients. Have a handful or two a day of raw, unsalted almonds in their skin (shell removed!) as a snack or sprinkled on your breakfast. Keep them sealed in the fridge for freshness.
  • Oats – oats are a good start to the day as they are filling and make a good base for breakfast cereals or porridge. Add to this the nuts, seeds and fruit and you’ve got a heart happy meal.
  • Oily fish – these are the main source of omega 3 oils and have been found to be helpful for the heart. Have at least one portion of salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, sardines a week (no more than two for women and children of childbearing age).
  • Tofu, beans, pulses – more high fibre foods, but also a source of phyto-oestrogens that may help with cholesterol reduction. Add these to casseroles, soups, stir fries.