Healthy Body

How To Prevent Hurting Your Heart

Steer clear of sugar in all its forms

“I know that any sugar is an overload to my system,” says Dr Aamer Khan, Harley Street Skin Clinic (harleystreetskinclinic.com) co-founder. “Sugar not only provides empty calories but also creates an addictive cycle of high-energy followed by plummeting blood sugar levels. It compromises the pancreas, sets the scene for diabetes and weakens heart function.” So, keep your sugar intake in check.

Practice meditation and try mindfulness

Several studies have suggested a link between heart disease, heart attack risk and constant stress. Not only is stress connected to a higher likelihood of taking up health damaging activities such as smoking or overeating – which can lead to heart disease – but it’s thought it also causes higher activity in the brain linked to processing emotions, and this could lead to heart problems. “Here at the clinic we see so many patients who are suffering from stress,” says Dr Aamer. “It has a direct knock-on effect on heart function, so I do my best to be aware of my own responses. You can’t control life, but you can control how you deal with it. I am a great believer in taking a few minutes out of a busy day to re-centre my focus and empty my mind.”

Take part in occasional fasting

“Fasting has often been used by people to help them lose weight but it could also improve heart health,” says Dr Aamer. “Fasting generally involves eating two meals totalling 500 calories on fasting days, and a normal diet on non-fasting days – for a short period. Research suggests it can lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, control diabetes and lower weight – all of which can lead to heart disease. “Intermittent fasting tackles the problem of visceral fat around your heart and internal organs effectively and promotes healing and cell renewal,” says Dr Aamer. “But I avoid yo-yo dieting. This kind of eating regime, especially in cases of extreme weight loss or gain, is very bad for heart health, plus has been strongly linked to heart disease, heart attacks and other fatal heart conditions.”

Have a positive outlook

“I love to have fun and enjoy life, and as one of the world’s optimists, I try to find joy in small places and make every day count,” says Michaela Nuttall, cardiovascular nurse specialist and chair of the healthcare committee at Heart UK (heartuk.org.uk). “Depression and loneliness increases your danger of having a heart attack and both can lead to poor lifestyle habits such as smoking, which in turn can increase your risk. Our attitude can be a powerful force and help make the behaviour and lifestyle changes needed.”

Try to balance energy in and energy out

“While I’m not the biggest fan of aerobic exercise, I know that it’s really good for me, so I try to go to the gym or for a run two to three times a week,” says Michaela. “Being physically active every day, or simply moving around and getting your heart rate up, is the single best thing you can do to keep your heart, mind and body healthy.”

Follow the 80/20 rule

“I follow healthy lifestyle recommendations 80 percent of the time and allow myself some treats 20 percent of the time,” explains Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, GP and director at online health service Your Doctor (your-doctor.co.uk). “My father is Italian, so good food is extremely important to my family and me. While I eat lots of vegetables of all different colours, minimise my meat intake, cook from scratch and never buy ready meals, I allow myself a couple of squares of dark chocolate at night. I’m human after all!”

Aim for seven hours of sleep each night

“A 2011 study by the American Heart Association (heart.org) showed a plausible link between sleep duration and cardiovascular risk in people who have high blood pressure, so I try to go to bed at the same time each night and get seven to eight hours as recommended,” says Dr Riccardo. “It’s my job to make sure I’m on the ball and feeling bright and alert, so I can give my patients the care and attention they deserve. Good sleep also encourages us to do more exercise and eat well, so it’s important for heart health.”

Try to avoid processed food

“As a working mum, my family does have processed foods every week, and of course I feel guilty about it, but elsewhere we try to eat fresh food as much as possible,” says Michaela. “For good heart health, it’s all about a balance of nutrients, from fresh greens to fresh fish. I’m a huge advocate of vegetables, particularly green leafy ones, and I couldn’t imagine a day without them. I also adore oily fish, particularly sardines on toast, and eat this three times a week for breakfast. The long-chain, omega-3 fatty acids may help to keep your heart healthy.”

Health & Wellbeing