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Maintain a healthy heart

Home » Staying Healthy » 3 Steps to a Healthy Heart

3 Steps to a Healthy Heart

Watch your weightBefore you read the rest of this article, go find a calendar and a red marker. Under today’s date, draw a heart with the marker and colour it in. Today marks the start of the journey towards a healthier heart and life.

Heart disease is considered to be the leading cause of death in both men and women. If you are reading this it probably means that you or someone you know is at risk. Worry not, it’s not all doom and gloom. While you may have little control over some risk factors such as family history, age and ethnicity, you CAN still avoid or reduce heart problems in the future by making changes to your lifestyle today. Here are 3 simple ways:

1. Quit Smoking!

The American Heart Association considers cigarette smoking the most important preventable cause of premature death. Studies continue to deliver evidence that the 4800 chemicals present in each cigarette directly contribute to atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease and eventually, heart attack.

Social and second-hand smokers are also at risk so it might be a good practice to encourage those at home and your friends to quit also. Besides, a support group always helps.

Why?

  • Nicotine, the main ingredient in cigarettes, stimulates the body to produce adrenaline which makes your heart beat faster and increases your blood pressure.
  • Carbon Monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood decreasing your tolerance for physical activity and making your heart work harder – increasing your blood pressure.
  • Smoking also leads to the build-up of fatty deposits in blood vessels, which results in the clogging and hardening of arteries, further preventing blood flow.

But, here’s the good news! As soon as you quit smoking your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year and some of the damage may even be reversible.

There’s no better time than now to start living a smoke-free life. Want to know how? Here are some tips from the British Heart Foundation:

  • Make a date to give up, and stick to it! Throw away all your tobacco, lighters and ashtrays.
  • Draw up a plan of action. Think about what could help you stop smoking – such as using a nicotine-replacement product– and have it ready before the date you plan to quit.
  • Keep busy, to help take your mind off cigarettes. Try to change your routine, and avoid the shop where you usually buy cigarettes.
  • Get support. Let your family and friends know you are quitting. Some people find that talking to friends and relatives who have stopped can be helpful.
  • Treat yourself. If you can, use the money you are saving by not smoking to buy yourself something special.

2. Get Active!

People who are inactive have twice the risk of developing coronary heart disease compared with active people.

Whether you’re young or old, right now is as good a time as any to start leading a more active lifestyle and regularly participating in moderate physical activity can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease by nearly 25%.

Why?

  • The more exercise you do, the stronger and more efficient the heart becomes so it can pump more blood with each beat.
  • Physical activity also helps to control your weight, which reduces the pressure on your heart along with the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Physical activity improves your physical and mental health. It is one of the most important factors in maintaining a good quality of life.

Getting active doesn’t mean you need to be a gym buff or a lean, mean workout machine. It might involve going swimming, doing an exercise class or playing a sport, but it also includes simple everyday things such as walking, gardening and climbing stairs. You can get the benefits of being more active from all types of physical activity.

Ready to get started?

First step, consult your doctor and let him/her know of your plans. Ideally, you should be aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity around 4 days per week. You can start slowly with these tips:

  • Start with 5-minute exercises at least three times a day and start slowly at a level that suits you
  • Gradually build up the time and frequency until 30 minutes feels easier.
  • Choose a variety of activities that you enjoy so you won’t get bored.
  • Try to do something every day.

3. Eat Smart!

In today’s world, time is short and food is usually fast. When we’re pressed for time we don’t always make the healthiest choices but you could be seriously contributing to your risk of heart disease.

Why?

  • Saturated and trans fats increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels.
  • Trans fat (found in deep-fried fast foods, bakery goods, packaged and processed foods) actually raises your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers your good cholesterol (HDL).

A healthy, balanced diet can significantly reduce your risk factors for high blood pressure and heart attack by:

  • Helping to maintain a healthy weight, which puts less pressure on your heart.
  • Helping to reduce your blood cholesterol level.
  • Helping to keep your blood pressure down.
  • Helping to prevent fatty material from building up inside your arteries.
  • Helping to prevent the formation of blood clots.

As a rule, the 5-a-day ‘diet’ is a good benchmark. Try to get 5 servings of fruit and vegetables each day of the week. How you do it is up to you but there are a lot of fun, tasty and easy-to-prepare ideas to keep your heart and tastebuds happy. Check out our Healthy Eating section here. In addition, Omega-3 fatty acids – found in some types of fish, walnut, soybean and canola oil – can actually reduce your risk of heart attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure.

Besides, following a heart-healthy diet doesn’t mean that you can’t have any fun. For example, moderate levels of alcohol consumption (2 glasses per day for men and 1 per day for women) especially red wine, can actually have a protective effect on your heart. Ask the Italians!


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