Health Chatter: Don't break your heart

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Like all relationships, the relationship we have with our heart needs nurturing. If it gets mistreated, its health starts to decline which could mean more trips to the doctors, relying on medication to keep you well, a poorer quality of life, and even a shorter lifespan. Luckily, there are some simple things we can do to give our hearts some tender loving care.

1 - Eating well This means eating enough of the foods that will nourish your body and not too much of the foods that can increase your risk of heart disease. Enjoy a good variety of foods – there’s plenty of choice! Cut back on salt and sugar by not adding them to your food or drinks and checking the food labels for healthier options. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables and unprocessed foods in your diet for optimal heart health.

The NHS Eatwell Guide shows a good example of how much you should eat of the different food groups.

Look at your diet over a day or a week to see if it is balanced. Ideally, it should be made up of:

  • 40% Fruit & Veg

  • 38% Carbohydrates

  • 12% Protein

  • 8% Dairy

  • 1% Fats

2 - Moving more Your heart is a muscle that is continuously contracting and relaxing. To do a good job it needs to be strong and, like the muscles that enable you to move, it needs to be exercised. This doesn’t mean hitting the gym and pumping iron (unless you want to of course), it’s about building activity into your day.

Even if you're working from home or have a sedentary role, you can still find opportunities to move. Aim for bursts of 10 minutes or more if that’s more achievable than a long stretch of activity.

Three 10 minute bursts in a day will soon have you completing the recommended 30 minutes a day.

Ways you can move more:

  • Walk further

  • Walk faster

  • Walk uphill

  • Climb stairs

  • Housework

  • Gardening

  • Decorating

  • Play active games with your children – use a ball, bats, frisbees, kites

  • Dance to your favourite tunes

  • Anything that involves moving and not sitting down for long periods.

A happy couple dancing with their dog whilst decorating a room
Decorating or dancing to your favourite tunes are fun ways to move more

3 - Chilling out Stress may give rise to an increased risk of heart disease, but the direct link is unclear. What stress can do though is increase the tendency towards unhealthy behaviours, e.g.:

  • “Comfort eating” - usually eating too much and more sugary or salty snack foods

  • Drinking more alcohol

  • Smoking more

  • Using recreational drugs

If stress goes on for a while, these behaviours become a habit that is hard to break. It’s important that whatever is happening in life, you take regular time out for yourself and allow your mind to stop “twittering” and the tension in your body to ease. It is okay to put yourself first.

By taking some time for yourself, you will remain well enough to deal with all those demands that are causing you stress in a positive way:

  • Find time to pause, just be yourself and accept that is all you can be.

  • Foster sharing relationships and enjoy being with others who are willing to give as well as take.

  • Think about what the things are that you enjoy doing and set aside time to do them

  • Steer clear of the “quick fix” solutions (alcohol, tobacco, food, drugs) that provide short lived escapism

  • If things get too much, talk and ask for help if needed

4 - Giving it up

Smoking Smoking damages the arteries that carry oxygen to your heart. When the heart muscle isn’t getting enough oxygen, it can’t contract efficiently and if the damage in the artery causes a blood clot to form then part of the heart muscle will die. Quitting may not be easy so prepare yourself well before you start by getting advice and support. Alcohol Drinking too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure and changes that damage your heart muscle.

Aim to have alcohol free days each week and no more than 14 units.

A unit is:

  • A single pub measure (25mls) of spirits (40% ABV)

  • A glass (50 ml) of liqueur, sherry or other fortified wine (20% ABV).

  • Half a pint (about 300mls) of normal strength (4% ABV) lager, cider or beer contains 1.1 unit of alcohol. Stronger beers and cider will contain more units.

If you are regularly drinking above the recommended limit and having difficulty cutting back, you can find contacts for support through the NHS.

Download the PDF here to share with your teams

Our sources and for more information: nhs.uk bhf.org.uk


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Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.