Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is responsible for more than 73,000 deaths a year in the UK and, according to the NHS, there are an estimated 2.3 million people living with CHD. With such an astonishing number of people affected by this largely preventable disease, it’s never too early to start looking after yours and your family’s heart health.

Your hardworking heart

Your heart is a muscle which is roughly the size of a fist. It is the strongest muscle in the body and has the very important job of pumping blood, ensuring each organ and cell receives the vital oxygen and nutrients needed to function and stay alive. On average, your heart beats around 100,000 times per day, pumping roughly 7,200 litres of blood over a distance of 19,000km – that’s the same distance as flying from London to Hong Kong and back. Not bad for something as small as a fist!

Coronary Heart Disease and Angina

According to national charity Heart Research UK, CHD occurs when blood supply to the heart muscle is reduced. This happens when fatty deposits, called atheroma, build up on the inner walls of the coronary arteries and harden. Gradually over time, this causes coronary arteries to narrow, lose their elasticity and even become blocked.

If the coronary arteries become partially blocked, enough to restrict blood and oxygen to the heart, angina may occur. Angina is a pain in the chest that is usually triggered by physical activity or stress and is a warning sign for CHD.

If a complete blockage occurs, such as when unstable plaque breaks away and causes a blood clot that ‘plugs’ the artery, part of the heart muscle will become starved of oxygen and damaged – this is a heart attack.

Who is most at risk?

Someone is more at risk of developing CHD if they have the following risk factors:

Natural risks:

  • Age
  • Sex – men are more at risk of developing CHD at an early age
  • Family history of CHD

Clinical risks:

  • High blood pressure
  • Raised cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese

Lifestyle risks:

  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise

How can you reduce your risk?

1. Diet
Eating a wide variety of foods, in the right quantities, can help to keep your heart healthy. Heart Research UK recommends eating a balanced diet rich in fruit and veg, starchy foods and protein, and which includes a small amount of the right fats. It is important to reduce the overall amount of fat you eat, particularly saturated and trans fats, however not all fats should be avoided completely – some foods contain mono and poly-unsaturated fats which are ‘heart-healthy’. These fats can be found in foods such as avocados, nuts, salmon and sardines.

2. Exercise
Regular exercise which gets your heart beating faster will help to control a number of things including blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and weight, and could also help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The NHS recommends doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week to benefit your health. There are many ways you can incorporate more exercise into your daily routine, and walking is a great place to start!  Why not take a look at our blog ‘Your footsteps matter: health benefits of walking’ for some inspiration?

If you want to become more physically active and you haven’t done any exercise for a long time, then it’s a good idea to see your GP or health care professional before starting.

3. Quit smoking
It is no secret that smoking is bad for your health, but did you know that smokers are almost twice as likely to have a  heart attack compared with someone who has never smoked? Smoking is bad for your heart because of the chemicals that cigarettes contain – many of which are poisonous and harmful to the heart. Your heart and arteries can suffer if you are a smoker or even subject to secondhand smoke. By stopping smoking, or if you are a non-smoker – avoiding smoky environments, you could dramatically reduce your risk of damaging your heart and arteries. Such are the dangers of secondhand smoke, a new law on smoking in cars and other vehicles with someone under 18 came into effect in England and Wales on 1 October 2015. Click here for more information.

4. Look after your oral health
Did you know that good dental health may also have a positive impact on heart health? Gum disease, (also known as periodontal disease) and CHD share common risk factors (including smoking, diabetes, ageing and obesity), characterised by inflammation and the build up of two different types of plaque:

  • Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection of the gums caused by a build up of plaque on the teeth
  • CHD occurs when the fatty deposit, atheroma, builds up in the arteries

With this in mind, and with the shared risk factors, it is never too early to start taking proper care of your oral and heart health. However, whatever your age, it is never too late to think of ways to improve your lifestyle in a way which will impact positively on your heart!

Barbara Dinsdale, Lifestyle Manager at Heart Research UK added: “Adopting simple, positive health behaviours and maintaining them throughout your lifetime will go a long way to helping you to enjoy a good quality of life free from illness and disease.”

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