5 (surprising) ways to love your heart

5 (surprising) ways to love your heart

Heart disease risk increases as we hit our 50s but we can easily improve our health and reduce those odds.

February isn’t just about cards and flowers on St Valentine’s Day, it’s also National Heart Month – a chance to find out more about a subject vital to our health and wellbeing.

Surprising as it may seem, you’re three times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer.1 The risk of heart disease climbs steeply for both sexes at middle age. And, while we women tend to develop problems seven to ten years later than men,2actually more women than men will die from cardiovascular disease.3 But knowledge is power and knowing – and tackling - risk factors can help you to take control.

1. Floss, floss and floss again to prevent gum disease

There is growing evidence of a link between gum disease (swollen, red, gums that sometimes bleed), which affects one in two of us,4 and heart disease.5 Why? Having healthy gums can decrease inflammation that is a key factor in heart disease. Researchers have recently discovered that people with gum disease had increased arterial stiffness,6 which is considered a marker of arteriosclerosis and a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Stick with it Try floss ‘picks’, interdental sticks or brushes together with water or air flossing if your teeth are close together or you find flossing difficult.

2. Be a weekend warrior

With the busy lives we lead today it’s not always easy to build regular physical activity into daily life. But if you can’t manage 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity most days, stepping up activity at the weekends can help. Why? Weekend activity lowers levels of less well-known but important blood fats called triglycerides that build up after a meal and are associated with increased heart disease risk Stick with it Choose an activity you enjoy – walking8, jogging or dance classes such as Lindyhop, salsa, flamenco, Ceroc or Zumba will get your heart pumping without you going anywhere near a gym. Weight training is another way to lower triglyceride levels in post-menopause, according to research9, so why not invest in some weights or resistance bands?

3. Know the F-factors

Various F-factors – aka female-specific heart risk factors – are now beginning to be recognised. They include pre-eclampsia (the high blood pressure disease of pregnancy)1011, PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome12 (especially if you’re overweight with it13), high blood glucose levels in pregnancy may be an indicator14, and excessive hot flushes and night sweats at menopause15. Why? Knowing you are at increased risk can motivate you to alter your lifestyle so be sure to mention any of the above risk factors to your GP. They may want to monitor your health more closely. Stick with it Gadgets can boost motivation. Why not invest in a wrist monitor or other tracking device that tracks heart rate and BP (ideally below 140/90) And don’t forget, if you’re UK-based you’re eligible for a free NHS heart health check at 40 and every five years after that.

4. Sleep tight

Getting enough good quality sleep is vital for a healthy heart. In fact both long and short sleeping hours can affect a women’s risk of developing heart problems, according to US studies. 16,17 Why? It’s not known exactly, but sleep deprivation may increase activity of your autonomic nervous system18, which controls things like heart rate and blood pressure, and salt retention.19 Stick with it Try to get around eight hours of sleep each night. Have a wind-down bedtime routine starting a couple of hours before turning in. Oh, and banish your tablet, mobile or other tech from the bedroom.

5. Have the conversation

Is heart disease in your family?20 Two fifths (40 per cent) of us have never discussed lifestyle changes with relatives. So says a poll conducted by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The reason for dragging our heels? Fear of causing upset. Why? While you can’t change your genetic inheritance you can help outwit it by tackling risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight. Stick with it Research shows that small, barely noticeable changes trigger the least psychological resistance, so make just one tiny heart healthy change – e.g. switching to 1 per cent fat milk in your tea - at a time. Once it’s become a habit choose another habit to change.

The British Heart Foundation is calling for us all to wear red and/or hold a red event on 6th February to help raise funds. Visit Wear It. Beat It. online at www.bhf.org.uk/red or call 0300 330 0645 to find out how to get in involved.

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