From 1st February it's National Heart Month - and the perfect time for us to start thinking about our tickers. With an impressive two thirds of women not giving their heart health a second thought until they're in their fifties, we think it's time to get the low down on what you can do to keep that heart healthy.
Dr Sundip Patel, Consultant Cardiologist at London Bridge Hospital, says: “There is a myth that women are less likely to be troubled by heart disease and its complications, but studies suggest that women indeed suffer more from heart events (such as heart attacks) than men, especially after the menopause."
And not only is it more common for women to suffer from heart disease, but our symptoms are often overlooked as they're not the 'classic' symptoms we'd normally expect.
He says “rather than the classical symptoms of chest discomfort, women may present with neck pain, back or tummy discomfort.”
So what exactly can you do to make sure your heart is in good working order? Below, the cardiac experts at London Bridge Hospital take us through the key steps for achieving a healthy and happy heart...
Indulge in the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet has been known to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and even Alzheimer's disease. It’s a real supercharged way of eating nutritionally.
Dr Sundip Patel says: “A Mediterranean diet will ideally be low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt, which can push up blood pressure levels - a silent killer in terms of heart disease and stroke in women as well as men.
”The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole-grains. From microwave meals, fast-food and even homemade recipes Western diets are so often smothered in salt. In a Mediterranean diet, salt is replaced with herbs, a rule Mediterranean folk have stuck to for many, many years."
This diet is the go-to healthy heart eating plan and with just a few tweaks in your food choices you can enjoy the benefits of optimal heart health too.
We know quitting the cigarettes ain’t easy, but if you yearn for longevity then making the decision to be smoke-free can be more than just life-changing.
Dr Sundip Patel says: “In regards to increasing the risk of heart disease, smoking is worse for women than men. Therefore women are advised to quit smoking or at least reduce the number of cigarettes they have.”
And studies show that if you change your ways before the age of 30, dying from a tobacco-related disease is close to none. Kick this habit’s butt and try new ways to stop smoking such as joining a support group or trying out nicotine replacement therapy. You'll be glad you did.
Reduce red meat
It may come as a surprise but regular red meat-eaters are 30% more likely to suffer from a cardiovascular attack such as a stroke or heart attack. The consumption of red meat causes your body to create a new heart disease-causing mechanism called TMAO which essentially leads to poor heart health.
Consultant Cardiologist Dr Jonathan Byrne says: “To maintain a healthy heart keep your saturated fat intake down, red meat should be eaten ideally less than twice per week.”
Or better yet, not at all. If you carnivores really can’t give up all together, save the steak and lamb for the occasional naughty treat.
Savour fish and whole-grain oats
Savour your fish and whole-grain oats. These healthy food groups are superstar foods to get your health back on track. Fish is a great source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as omega-3 and omega-6. In fact, fish can ultimately help to reduce your risk of a heart attack whilst also improving your chances of surviving one.
A scrumptious bowl of freshly cooked oatmeal with a sprinkle of nuts and dash of honey is a great way to start off your day. Oats are scientifically proven to reduce cholesterol levels by 8-23% - a good excuse to pile on the oats from now on. Eating whole-grains for breakfast can also help to lower cholesterol, helping your heart in the long term.
Reduce stress with R&R
Some much needed R&R is vital in keeping your spirits up. So put down the work, put your feet up and turn on the TV - it’s time for some de-stressing ‘me time’.
If you’re feeling the stress of all the things you have going on Dr Sundip says: “Fresh air will help your mood. In fact, low mood can be (directly and indirectly) associated with heart disease.”
And since stress is a leading cause of death, there’s no time to mess around. Try simple things like sneaking in a snooze during the day or enjoying snuggle time with your pooch (it’s really proven to reduce stress!).
30 minute workouts
You’ve heard it all before and we’ll tell you again. Doing 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week will help keep your heart healthy. Period.
“A condition called 'Metabolic Syndrome' tends to have more of an adverse heart outcome on women than men. In this condition, there is a cluster of features which include: central obesity - increased fat deposition in and around the abdomen, high blood sugars and high blood fats (triglycerides as well as cholesterol).
Women should therefore exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. A brisk walk is just as good as expensive gym membership,” says Dr Sundip Patel.
Exercise plays a huge part in making your heart muscles stronger, so we say, get off your bum and start moving. Even a short walk to the shop or a sprint up the stairs will help as long as you tally up those minutes.
Do short, intense workouts
Interval or circuit-based training programmes are ideal to get your heart pumping while helping reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol.
The idea that to improve your heart health lies within a hardcore workout are silly old wives' tales according to Jack Elliott-Frey, Personal Trainer and Co-Founder of Frey Fitness. This type of exercise can actually do the exact opposite and even lead to muscle tissue scarring. So don't go workout crazy!
Jack says: "Start with an interval or a circuit-based training programme, which can help improve muscular strength, endurance and heart health. For example, you want to raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds (work period), followed by a 90 second recovery period (rest period).
"For those who don't have access to a gym, or aren't at a level where this is applicable, simply walking can also count - by upping the pace to a 'power walking' speed or using streets which are sloped, it is still a method that keeps you on your toes and helps make exercise fun."
Will you be working towards a healthy-heart lifestyle? Tweet us @sofeminine and let us know!