As we approach the start of Spring, all but the most determined of souls have strayed from their well-intentioned new year’s resolutions to take better care of themselves. February is officially National Heart Month in the UK, with the British Heart Foundation working hard to remind everyone that good health is a lifelong pursuit rather than a quick resolution to the December calorie binge.
Protecting your heart is often regarded as an ancillary benefit when people are trying to lose weight, with most people largely focusing on the cosmetic benefits of a healthy body rather than improving their overall wellbeing. Fortunately most of the common steps people take to get in better physical shape are complimentary to good heart health, although there are some slight modifications which can be made to help keep your heart in great shape.
The ideal workout for your heart is moderate intensity aerobic exercise, ideally for around half an hour a day. This can include things like swimming, a brisk walk or anything that leaves you slightly out of breath and elevates your heart rate. If you start finding this type of activity easy, progress to other cardiovascular activities like jogging or cycling.
Strength training has also been shown to have a positive effect on heart health, with compound exercises particularly beneficial. These are lifts which work several muscle groups as once, with squats, deadlifts, chin-ups and dips some of the more effective movements. 3 workouts of around 45-60 minutes a week is recommended, and if you have enough energy left afterwards some light cardio can provide additional benefits.
Excessive salt consumption is one of the biggest contributors to the rising levels of heart disease, with the increase in blood pressure hugely increasing your risk of a heart attack. A lot of heavily processed foods, typically but not exclusively the lower quality brands available in most supermarkets, tend to have a high salt content, so do some label reading when you shop to try and avoid these products.
High fat foods like cheese and red meat have also been shown to have a negative effect on the heart, so try to moderate consumption of these items.
Exercise and nutrition aren’t the only contributing factors to a healthier heart. Smoking remains a massive issue in the battle against heart disease, and cutting out cigarettes is by far the best thing smokers can do for their heart. It greatly increases your risk of angina, heart attacks and stroke by building up deposits of atheroma in your arteries. Stopping smoking has an almost immediate impact on the condition of your heart, and your risk factors decrease dramatically over a short period of time.
Genetics also play a big part in how likely you are to suffer from coronary heart disease. Those with a history of high blood pressure in their family are much more at risk than those who don’t, so if your family has been affected it’s important that you start making positive changes to your lifestyle.
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Stuart writes about a broad range of health and fitness topics for AXA PPP healthcare, a private medical insurance provider based in the UK