BHF National Heart Month

Heart disease is the biggest killer in the UK and it claims around 200,000 lives a year - many of which could have been extended with a few lifestyle changes.

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With this in mind, the British Heart Foundation has declared February to be Healthy Heart Month - aiming to encourage people to adopt healthier habits.

Here are a few basic pointers...

Eat less
Weight problems are one of the biggest (no pun intended) contributing factors to heart disease - with 43 per cent of men, 32 per cent of women and a shocking 30 per cent of children in the UK overweight.

Stop smoking
There is a mountain of evidence that smoking is a major cause of heart disease. You are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack if you are a smoker. Your GP can help and there are now a range of medications, nicotine replacements and therapies available.

Eat better
There has been a lot of research into the role of fruit and veg in preventing and helping with heart disease. The risk reduction has been estimated to be as high as 40 per cent. The five-a-day maxim is a good standard to maintain but having a variety of colours is also important.

Exercise more
Taking more exercise is considered to be the most important of all risk factors and small changes can mean a lot. Try a 30 to 40 minute walk three times a week, even this small change will decrease your risk of cardiovascular problems in the future.

Drink less
While there are reports that drinking small amounts of red wine may actually help prevent heart disease, experts agree that high levels of drinking damage the heart. Some of the damaging side effects are: a weakening of the heart muscle, irregular heartbeat, greater risk of high blood pressure and possible enlargement of the heart.

Feel the benefit
If making all these changes seems a bit much, focus your attention on just one to begin with. Research shows that adopting one good habit can reinforce your desire and ability to adopt others. Basically, if you drink less you'll probably be less inclined to scoff a greasy kebab just before bed. Once you stop smoking you'll feel more able to exercise - and if you exercise more you'll want to eat well to keep you energy levels up and enjoy the benefits of burning all those calories.