World Heart Day is on September 29 this year and we all need to do more to reduce our risk of heart disease. With almost 20 years in the medical profession, Dr Luke James, Medical Director at Bupa Health Clinics applauds the rise in awareness on heart health over the years, but thinks there’s more we could do to reduce our risk. He says: “For most people, the heart is something they take for granted every day – it’s an amazing organ which works non-stop for your entire life. So why not make your heart’s job a bit easier?
“To do that, it’s vital to understand what heart disease is. We see patients in our clinics everyday who are unclear of the different types and have misconceptions about their own risk of developing a cardiovascular problem.”
More than 435 Brits lose their lives to cardiovascular disease each day in the UK
Here are the top three myths Dr James hears in their health clinics:
MYTH 1: “I’m a woman… it only affects men, right?”
Heart disease kills the same amount of women as it does men, but women are more likely to develop problems later in life. People often perceive cardiovascular disease as something that mainly affects men because high levels of oestrogen in the female body protect them from many heart problems until menopause.
Just like men, smoking, weight gain, high cholesterol and low activity levels throughout life all contribute to the risk. We would recommend everyone assesses their risk, but men and women around the age of 45 really do benefit from undertaking a review of their risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol. Getting a coronary calcium CT which can identify potential issues and allow patients to manage their risks in a much more personalised way, could also be worthwhile.
MYTH 2: “I’m OK as none of my family have ever had heart problems.”
We often see patients dismissing the risk of heart disease because there is no family history. While there is no denying the role of hereditary factors, lifestyle also plays an enormous role in developing a cardiovascular condition.
There are great opportunities available for people to really understand their own risk, and manage their lifestyles accordingly. A coronary assessment is an obvious option, but even a general health assessment which looks at lifestyle influences is a good place to start. Regularly checking cholesterol levels and blood pressure are also great ways to keep on top of your heart health, whether you have a family history or not.
MYTH 3: “I’ll worry about it later, it’s a problem for elderly people.”
Over a quarter of people who die from cardiovascular disease everyday are under the age of 75. With heart disease being the UK’s single biggest killer, heart health is not something we should be putting off until we’re older.
With a better understanding of heart conditions, it’s clear that the way we live our lives each day can have a positive effect on the health of our hearts.
Dr Luke James shares his top tips for keeping our tickers in good working order:
TIP 1: Eat right to improve good cholesterol
The fact is that the more weight we carry, the higher our cholesterol can be and greater the risk of developing a cardiovascular problem becomes. Having a healthy weight is an absolute priority but it’s also helpful to know that there are two types of cholesterol – the good and the bad.
A healthy diet including beans and lentils, oats, garlic, onions, oily fish, avocado and olive oil can help you improve the good levels of cholesterol (HDL) in your body and reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems. Switching to foods that are high in protein, choosing colourful fruit and vegetables and high fibre food can also help lower “bad” cholesterol and improve heart health.
TIP 2: Stub it out
It is without doubt that smoking greatly increases the risk of heart disease, and here’s how. Smoking damages the lining of our arteries, which leads to a build-up of fatty material that narrows the artery. This can cause angina, a heart attack or a stroke. The most sensible tip is never to start but for those who do smoke, it’s best to visit a GP and find a method of quitting that suits you.
TIP 3: Check in
A Bupa Health Clinic coronary health check is most suitable for men and women aged between 45 and 69. This health check looks for evidence of heart disease, identifies the main risk factors for each patient and offers practical advice about positive lifestyle changes.
The check involves several tests including a coronary CT scan, and includes a statistical risk for your age, taking demographics into account. Lasting up to two hours, next steps are then discussed based on the calculated risk level and findings of the CT calcium scan.
TIP 4: Don’t stress
There has been a lot of discussion around the relationship between heart disease and stress and it can play a part. Someone who is stressed might drink more, over eat or start smoking to ease the tension.
Stress can also increase one’s blood pressure so it’s advisable to introduce stress relieving techniques to reduce the risk of health problems. Fresh air and a bit of light exercise to cleanse the mind for ten minutes a day can do wonders.
Physical activity can help reduce the risk of getting heart disease. Over time, this small amount of exercise a day can have long lasting positive effects on your health.