Keep your heart healthy

Candy Bellinger

Heart disease is the biggest killer in the UK. Around 200,000 people a year die as a result of heart disease and 2.6 million of us are currently living with a heart condition, costing the NHS £15b a year. The good news is that heart disease is largely preventable and making some changes to your lifestyle will reduce your risk (and will also cut your risk of getting dementia or having a stroke).

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The underlying cause of heart disease in the UK is lifestyle. Too many of us are overweight. Currently 43 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women are overweight in the UK with 30 per cent of children already overweight. You are also at risk if you smoke, have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.

Heart disease was once seen as a condition affecting overweight middle-aged men. The sad fact is more and more women are suffering from heart problems - and smoking, poor diet and a lack of exercise mean younger women are now being diagnosed with heart conditions.

While there are reports that small amounts of alcohol may actually help prevent heart disease, many experts still believe 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.

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.

Eat more fruit and vegetables. 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.

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.