Your heart beats 100,000 times per day. Keeping your heart healthy is essential; to do so, you must fuel and rest your heart muscles properly.
What should you know about how to have a healthy heart? Here are some tips from four cardiologists on maintaining a healthy heart.
How To Have A Healthier Heart – According to 4 Cardiologists
Exercise is key
Prof Dan Augustine, a cardiologist at Royal United Hospitals Bath, says: “If exercise could be turned into a pill, it would be better than anything a doctor could give you to improve heart health.”
The NHS recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking that makes you slightly breathless, or 75 minutes of higher-intensity exercise like running or cycling. (Source)
Looking back at ancient times, we can see that people walked everywhere and engaged in manual labor. Graham Stuart, medical director of Sports Cardiology UK, states that all body processes are designed to be active.
Be aware of what your body can do.
If you have not exercised before, you need to increase your activity level gradually, advises Augustine.
People become more susceptible to cardiac issues during physical activity as they age. Knowing your personal risk factors is crucial if you are over 40. For example, if you smoke or have a family history of coronary disease, you may have a higher risk. Regular health check-ups are highly recommended, which include monitoring your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes risk.
Overdoing it can be harmful, too.
Generally speaking, you should avoid doing too much exercise.
If you are participating in real intense activities such as ultramarathons, there is a risk of causing some heart damage, according to Augustine. However, this effect is likely to reverse within three to four days.
What is more concerning, he says, is people overexerting themselves without being aware of underlying coronary disease. This can be a reason why otherwise healthy people collapse during marathons, or middle-aged men experience heart attacks while cycling.
Avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
“You are not likely to go from zero to 100% in terms of exercise, but just watch about how much you’re sitting,” says Augustine. Stuart says that achieving 10,000 steps daily is considered good enough. Dr Fizzah Choudry walks around her house in the evening until she reaches her target, says the consultant cardiologist at St Bartholomew’s in London.
High cholesterol can be problematic.
“Cholesterol is a type of fat in your bloodstream that your body gets from the food you eat and also made in your liver,” says Choudry. “Having too much cholesterol can lead to clogging of the arteries, especially the heart arteries and the vessels that supply the brain. This can lead to problems like heart disease and stroke. The cholesterol plaque that accumulates in the heart arteries can reduce blood flow to the heart, leading to chest pain and angina. It can also cause sudden blockage of the arteries, resulting in a heart attack.”
Inherited risk should be assessed.
If a family member has had a heart attack before the age of 60, it’s essential to see a doctor, advises Augustine. Likewise, “if you have a parent, sibling or relative who has a heart problem that they’re told is inherited, then you must get yourself examined,” says Stuart. It is recommended to check with your doctor on how to live safely with an inherited condition, particularly when participating in sports.
Diet plays an integral role.
“I would recommend a Mediterranean-style diet,” says Stuart. “Include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and pulses as they benefit heart and blood vessels.”
Due to their high fiber content, Augustine suggests swapping white bread, rice, and pasta for wholegrain versions. “They are more filling, and they are digested more slowly. Protein is essential and helps the body to grow and repair. Oily fish is perfect for reducing bad cholesterol, inflammation, and blood pressure.”
Avoid unhealthy foods.
Stuart says, “Substantial evidence suggests that consuming deep-fried Mars bars may adversely affect heart health. Choudry, who specializes in cardiovascular disease prevention, advises patients to reduce their intake of fats, particularly saturated fat, and the amount of oil they add to their food. It’s important to reduce your carbohydrate intake to lose weight and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Many people tend to eat a plate full of rice or pasta with a small portion of meat and vegetables. However, it’s recommended that you cut your carbohydrate intake in half and fill the rest of your plate with white meat, fish, and vegetables. This way, you’ll be able to achieve your weight loss goals and improve your heart health.”
… and other no-brainers
Tharusha Gunawardena, a cardiologist at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, says that quitting smoking can significantly increase life expectancy.”
Choudry explains that his heart attack patients often have a sudden realization and vow to quit smoking, which is excellent.
According to Augustine, consuming alcohol in moderation is acceptable from a cardiac perspective, provided that you limit yourself to safe levels. The UK guidelines recommend a maximum of 14 units over three days or more. The crucial point is to avoid binge drinking, Augustine advises.
Note: A recent WHO study found alcohol is not good for your overall health. So, it’s recommended to avoid it.
Studies have demonstrated that working during the night increases inflammation and leads to worse outcomes for the heart. Getting eight hours of sleep is crucial as it facilitates numerous regenerative processes. Better sleep can be achieved by practicing good sleep hygiene, prioritizing rest, and avoiding screens before bedtime.
Stress leads to unhealthy habits.
Augustine states that if one’s body clock is disrupted due to high-stress levels, they are less likely to be physically active. According to Stuart, if you have stress hormones, you are more likely to experience abnormal heartbeats. If you find yourself in a constantly high-adrenaline environment, you are more likely to develop heart problems. Dealing with stress in the modern world can be challenging, especially for teenagers. I advise them to make time for rest, whether it’s through meditation or taking a walk.
Hearts can sometimes race.
We become more aware of our heartbeat in moments of anxiety or nervousness since blood flows faster, similar to when we exercise. Gunawardena says: “Generally, we don’t notice our heartbeat, but sometimes we do. This can be due to something peculiar, like our heart racing or beating irregularly. It can sometimes be a normal phenomenon – often, thinking about your heartbeat can suddenly make you aware of it, but palpitations, as a symptom, are the unusual awareness of heartbeats, where it feels odd. If you are concerned about palpitations, particularly if you are also breathless and experiencing chest pain, you should see a doctor. “It is hard to be very specific,” says Gunawardena. “It can be a very individual experience. Some people can have abnormal heart rhythms and experience very few symptoms, and there are others who find more common, non-life limiting phenomena much more intrusive.”
What is a heart attack?
Choudry explains that a heart attack occurs when an artery is blocked, preventing blood flow to a part of the heart. That is what leads to the pain.” Choudry’s team deals with almost 1,000 heart attacks every year and makes about 3,000 coronary interventions, which involve putting stents into people’s arteries when they become clogged, to prevent heart attacks.
A heart attack can feel like a heaviness in the chest.
Symptoms vary, but chest pain “that feels like a weight” is common. Some patients describe it as chest pain that radiates to their throat or left arm. This can be accompanied by sweating and nausea. Seek medical advice immediately if you suspect a heart attack.
A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.
When a person has a heart attack, their arteries become blocked, and their muscles are deprived of oxygen, explains Gunawardena. “It triggers an abnormal heart rhythm, causing fast and irregular heartbeat. Normally, your heart should pump in a regular, rhythmic pattern, but when it goes into one of these abnormal heart rhythms, it pumps in a very uncoordinated manner. And so people pass out, and that is when they have what is known as a cardiac arrest.”
After a heart attack, driving and sex should be avoided for a month.
Gunawardena says that heart attacks can significantly impact a person’s confidence, as any sensation in the chest can suddenly become noticeable. He says: “Most people tend to feel nervous about having sex and want to engage with all the cardiac rehab and exercises first. Like with any other exercise, it’s a case of starting slowly. Sex, like any form of aerobic exercise, is, in fact, very good for the heart, too.
Statins can be life-savers
Choudry says: “In the last twenty years or more, reducing cholesterol with medicines like statins has led to a dramatic reduction in mortality related to heart disease. Statins are typically prescribed for all patients who suffer heart disease and also those felt to be at increased risk, whether due to raised cholesterol or other factors.”
A pacemaker isn’t as life-altering as it sounds.
Stuart uses the example of Christian Eriksen, a Danish footballer who suffered a cardiac arrest at the European Championships in 2021. Eriksen had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which is a type of pacemaker, fitted after the incident, but he still continues to play professionally for Manchester United. According to Gunawardena, people with these devices can live normal lives with only minor inconveniences, such as setting off security alarms at airports.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is an ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed the Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA, obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says, “Age is just a number!”
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is general and for information only because it doesn’t consider your health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalized health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should determine if the information is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.