Looking After Your Heart
Over the past few decades, much progress has been made in the understanding, treatment, and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, leading to a reduction in the number of overall cases worldwide. However, heart disease still remains one of the biggest killers, with one in three of us expected to die from a related condition. Yet there are many simple ways we can all reduce our risk for the disease.
Avoid smoking and smokers
Smoking is said to be the single most preventable risk factor for coronary heart disease. In the UK, mortality rates for cardiovascular disease have dropped by around 45% in the last 10 years, and the reduction in smoking over the last few decades is thought to account for 60% of this reduction. If you smoke 25 cigarettes a day, your risk of experiencing a heart attack increases four-fold. But what if you don’t smoke, but those around you do? Even as a passive smoker, your risk of getting coronary heart disease goes up by about a quarter.
Limit bad cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid, which your body needs to function normally. If your doctor delivers the bad news that your cholesterol readings are high, it means that the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood—known as low-density lipoprotein or LDL—are higher than recommended. In addition to bad cholesterol (LDL), there’s also good cholesterol: HDL, or high-density lipoprotein. Why is one cholesterol labelled good and the other bad? LDL moves cholesterol from your blood into the arterial wall, leaving fatty deposits that narrow your arteries. In contrast, it’s believed that HDL may reverse these fatty deposits, taking them from the arterial wall back into the blood.
Watch your fat distribution
People can be defined as having either an apple or pear-shaped body, depending on where they store fat. Apple-shaped individuals tend to store excess fat around their middle, while pear-shaped people tend to have a smaller waist and larger hips and thighs. In apple shapes, some of this fat is called visceral fat, which lines the internal organs of the body, such as the pancreas and liver. Unlike subcutaneous fat (the fat beneath the skin), visceral fat is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Watch what’s on your plate
Nutritionists recommend at least five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables a day to prevent chronic diseases. They also advise reducing dietary salt intake from the current global levels of 9 to 12 grams per day to the recommended 6g per day, which could have a big impact on blood pressure. To maintain healthy cholesterol levels, nutritionists also recommend replacing saturated fat—butter and coconut oil, for example—with monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil and avocado, plus polyunsaturated fat, such as sunflower oil and oily fish. Swapping these fats will help lower blood pressure and reduce fat build-up in the arteries.
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