Your heart works continuously pumping blood around your body from the moment you are formed in the womb to the moment you die. In fact, the cause of death for everyone is heart failure – the cause may vary, but in the end, it is the inability of the heart to keep pumping that results in your demise. Given that the heart is such a vital organ, taking care of it would seem like an obvious thing to do, so how well are you looking after your heart?
Some of the most significant ways in which you can help your heart are under your direct control, because they are related to the choices you make as to how you lead your life:
- Smoking: It’s been known for decades now that smoking causes heart disease, although there are still some pockets of resistance even now. The amount of clinical evidence that has been amassed over the years is overwhelming, but smoking continues to be big business across the world.
One problem is the highly addictive nature of nicotine, the active substance in tobacco. It doesn’t take long for you to become hooked on cigarettes, and then it is very hard to quit, so the best thing to do is not smoke in the first place. However, as it has such cultural and historical significance, it is still embraced by many young people, who only regret their actions when they mature and start to appreciate the detrimental effects.
If you want to give up smoking, there are numerous substitutes such as nicotine patches and gum, and many supportive courses and therapies available to help you free yourself. If one method doesn’t work for you, try another, and don’t underestimate the influence of psychological addiction in addition to the physical. Getting to the root of why cigarettes have such a hold over you will be the key to finding the motivation to quit.
- Diet: When it was discovered that cholesterol was bad for the heart, leading to blocked arteries and therefore heart attacks, the war on fat in the diet began. We now know that a level of cholesterol is essential for normal functions in the body, and that while some fats are actively harmful, others are beneficial. This does mean that knowing what you should be eating is a lot more complicated, so if you don’t know your trans fats from your omega-3, find out which fats you should be actively consuming and those to avoid, making sure the information you are reading is up to date and comes from a reliable source.
The more fresh fruits and vegetables, wholefoods and fiber you can incorporate in your diet the healthier you will be as a whole, and if your body is healthy your heart won’t be over-stressed. If you are carrying a little too much weight, have a look at what you are eating and make some changes to reduce your calorie intake and shed some pounds. Excess fat contributes to heart disease by clogging arteries, and if you are overweight, you will be putting unnecessary strain on your heart. If you’re not sure about what your ideal weight should be, get it checked so that you know what is healthy for your body type. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink now and then, but excessive consumption of alcohol can also lead to weight gain and high blood pressure, raising your likelihood of suffering from heart problems.
- Exercise: The heart is a muscle, and therefore to be strong it needs to be exercised. This is best achieved by doing some form of cardiovascular exercise, i.e., an activity that gets your heart beating faster and raises your breathing rate. This type of exercise will do you a great deal of good, but beware of suddenly throwing yourself into a strenuous routine. Build up your fitness gradually so that you don’t put too much strain on your heart and don’t book a game of squash when you haven’t done any exercise to speak of for years!
- Mental health: Trying to cope with high levels of stress and anxiety or the nightmare of depression won’t impact your heart directly – although a bad panic attack can make you feel as if you are having a heart attack. However, any steps you can take to improve your mental health and well-being will reduce the overall strain on your body and thus protect your heart as well.
Hereditary risk factors
There are some risk factors for heart problems that you don’t have so much control over, and if these apply to you, then you need to be extra careful when it comes to sticking with the healthy living guidelines above. Family history of heart disease or stroke can indicate you are at an increased risk, and as we age everyone’s risk increases. Men are statistically more likely to develop heart disease at a younger age than women, which has led to the myth that heart problems predominantly affect males. In truth, women can be just as much at risk, so don’t assume that if you are female, you will be immune from heart problems. People from some ethnic backgrounds are also at higher risk, including those of South Asian and Afro-Caribbean origins.
Following medical advice
If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart problem, follow the advice of your doctor and make any changes they recommend to your lifestyle if you haven’t already done so. High blood pressure can be a significant problem, mainly because having it doesn’t result in any noticeable symptoms. You may wonder why you have to take blood pressure meds when you feel perfectly ok, but it is very important you take them if they have been prescribed for you, as high blood pressure is a major contributory factor for heart attacks. If you are struggling with making changes, join a support group or an online forum and link up with others in the same boat, who can support you and offer you their help and advice.
Your heart works tirelessly for you every minute of every day, so learn to love your heart and value what it does, and start treating it with the care and respect it deserves.