Simple changes for a healthy heart

Heart and circulatory disease was the biggest cause of death amongst UK residents in 2010, accounting for almost one in three of all deaths. Yet in February of this year, a study by Lloyds Pharmacy found that two thirds of us do nothing to keep our heart healthy, despite the fact that simple lifestyle changes could make all the difference.

heart health

Pic: Getty

In many cases, heart disease is largely preventable so follow these simple rules to keep your ticker in tip top shape.

Eat healthily
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to significantly reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease, as well as protect your heart if you already have problems.

Fruit and veg is paramount in a heart healthy diet, so make sure you're getting your five-a-day, whether that's from the fresh, frozen, dried or tinned variety. Pure, unsweetened fruit juice count as one of your five, as do pulses and beans, and putting plenty of colour on your plate with a variety of veggies will ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need from these health-giving plants, along with fibre.

Starchy foods should also be on the menu, but where possible choose wholegrain varieties, which play a role in regulating blood pressure. Brown rice and pasta are readily available, or try something more adventurous in the form of wholegrain couscous, quinoa or barley.

Protein, particularly oily fish, which provides us with the famously good-for-you omega-3s, and dairy should also form part of your diet, but it is essential to limit the amount of saturate (stick to less than seven per cent of your daily calories) and trans fats (less than one per cent of your daily calories) you consume in order to keep your cholesterol under control.

Finally, watch the salt and sugar content. It's easy enough to do if you are cooking a meal from scratch, but ready meals, processed foods and even cereals are renowned for containing more than you might imagine, so do keep an eye on your recommended daily intake - 6 grams of salt, and 90 grams of sugar.

A balanced diet will also help to keep your weight in check, again reducing your risk of heart problems.

Stay active
Regular exercise is also key to a healthy heart, and no matter how slowly you start or how old you are, make exercise part of your day. The NHS recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five times a week, and while that might seem a lot, remember that simple changes like taking the stairs instead of the lift, gardening, walking, even housework all make a difference. As the British Heart Foundation suggests, start small and be realistic about your goals, and try keeping an activity diary so that you can monitor your progress, and your success.

Quit the bad stuff
While a healthy diet and regular exercise will go a long way to keeping your heart healthy, the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease is to quit smoking. It is estimated that smoking is a major cause in one fifth of cardiovascular disease worldwide.

Tough as it is to quit the weed, keep in mind that your risk of developing heart disease is halved just 12 months after that final puff. There is plenty of help and support available if you are struggling to stop, and it is worth visiting your GP, who will be only too happy to help.

As for alcohol, there's no need to cut it out completely. In fact, previous research suggests that one or two units a day can actually help reduce the risk for men over 40 and women after the menopause. However, moderation is the key word, and staying within the recommended weekly limits of 21 units for men and 14 units for women, with at least two alcohol-free days each week, is important.

Heart health calculator
If you're concerned about your heart health, visit - an online too designed to calculate your potential risk of having cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years, as well as giving more information about other risk factors that can affect the health of the heart.

Your heart keeps you going... so do yourself a favour and keep it fit, healthy and pumping.