Your heart works really hard day and night to keep your blood pumping and delivering nutrients to your body. Taking good care of your heart can help you feel well, reduce your risk of heart disease, and have a good quality of life.
The good news is, there are lots of things you can do to keep your heart healthy.
Eat a heart healthy diet
A healthy diet is one that’s balanced and varied. Most people can benefit from eating more foods that nourish your body, and fewer that increase health risks. A good guide is to include:
Plenty of vegetables & fruits - aim for at least 5 portions a day.
Plenty of starchy carbs including potatoes, rice, bread, and pasta – opt for wholegrain varieties as much as possible.
Some dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt.
Some protein such as meat, fish, eggs, and beans.
Very few foods high in fats or sugar.
No more than 6g salt each day which is about one teaspoon – check food packaging labels to see how much has already been added.
Regular physical activity helps to keep your heart healthy. Being active can lower blood pressure, help you maintain a healthy weight, and reduce stress hormones which affect your heart.
Adults should aim to get 150 mins each week of moderate intensity physical activity – that includes things like brisk walks, swimming, cycling, and gardening.
If that seems too much, start smaller. Any activity is better than none, so start with what’s manageable for you, and pick something you enjoy doing so you’re more likely to keep at it.
Smoking damages your blood vessels and puts you at much higher risk of heart attack and stroke. You can reduce your risk by quitting, and after just one year of being smoke free your risk of heart attack with have halved compared to a smoker’s.
There is a lot of support available if you’re ready to give quitting a go. Search for ‘NHS Quit Smoking’ to access free stop smoking support including getting a personal quit plan, advice on stop smoking aids, and where to find support locally.
Drink less alcohol
Regularly drinking too much alcohol has been linked to having high blood pressure. High blood pressure causes strain on the muscles of your heart and can lead to cardiovascular disease over time.
The recommended limit for alcohol is no more than 14 units a week spread evenly over at least 3 days. It’s also good to include drink free days during the week.
No amount of alcohol is completely safe but staying within the guidelines will keep health risks at a low level. Try an online alcohol calculator to find out if your drinking levels are under or over the limit.
Take steps to manage stress
Stress affects the heart in a few different ways. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to engage in unhealthy activities such as drinking, smoking, or eating unhealthy food as a coping mechanism. As we’ve already explored, these can all negatively affect your heart health.
Because of the way it affects the brain, stress may also cause your arteries to become inflamed which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Stress can be caused by a huge range of factors, from work pressures, money worries, relationship issues, to even fun things like going on holiday or getting married. A little stress can be helpful to keep us motivated, but unhealthy levels of stress can be harmful.
Talk about what’s worrying you with someone you trust – sometimes just getting things off your chest can help.
Identify the cause of your stress and take steps to address it – even small steps can help you feel like you’re more in control.
Make time for things you enjoy – finding a balance between doing things for yourself and for others is important to keep you healthy.
Exercise, eat well, and sleep – a healthy lifestyle is really helpful for managing stress.
Understanding how to keep your heart healthy is the first step to keeping your risks low. The next step is putting it into action! What one heart healthy change can you make today?
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