5 Risks of heart disease and how to avoid them

Now that I’m the far side of the menopause I want to stay as fit and healthy as I can so that I can enjoy my life right to the end AND have the energy and joy to be a blessing to others along the way. If you’re the same then we need to get up to speed on how to look after our hearts and arteries. Great health doesn’t happen by chance, it happens on purpose so let’s get clued up on these risks and how to minimise them.

 

Risk factors

 
1. Smoking

 

Smoking cigarettes leads to a high risk of heart disease and arterial disease because smoking thickens the blood, raises blood pressure and increases the risk of a heart attack by 70%. Seriously consider the benefits of giving up and be encouraged that the bad effects of smoking begin to reverse as soon as you give up, especially if you follow the advice below.

 

2. Lack of exercise

 

We were not designed to sit around all day, we’re designed to be on the move. Much of the western world lives in the unnatural environment of being desk-bound for the majority of the day. Over 30 chronic diseases are associated with a sedentary lifestyle and heart disease is in there. Take the average office worker sitting at a desk for 8-9 hours per day plus the car drive to and fro and the evening spent TV watching and it can easily be 15 hours per day they have been sitting. Will 30 minutes in the gym a couple of times a week compensate for that? In a word, no.
Daily exercise is important for improving cardiovascular function and the usual advice is to get at least 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise a day by going for a walk or any activity that raises your heart beat and gets you breathing a little heavier.

 

This is great advice but there is also mounting evidence from numerous studies that it is crucial to health to avoid sitting for too long. If you’ve been sitting for an hour, it’s time to get up and move around.


Many people set a timer for 25 minutes and then do something active for 5 minutes, my son-in-law gets on well with this but it didn’t work so well for me. I set my timer for 45 minutes and have a 15 minute break; in that time I can clean the house, prepare dinner or do some gardening etc. For instance whilst writing this post, I’ve also dusted the house, done some weeding and defrosted food for dinner – that’s a great feeling plus I end the day feeling energised from the physical activity I’ve had.


My husband and I have also set ourselves up with standing desks so that we can mix things up a bit; sitting sometimes, standing the rest of the time alongside setting the 45 minute timer. There are an increasing number of people who have gone one step further and have added a treadmill to their standing desk. I have nothing but respect for them – it’s the future!


What if you have a disability or are in pain and find moving around difficult? Just the act of getting up and standing is really beneficial to the body and within two minutes of standing several body system change and begin to function better so if that’s all you can do, then do it and do it regularly. It will make a difference.

 

3. High homocysteine

 

I have a separate article on cholesterol which you can read but I want to tell you about a substance called homocysteine which may be completely new to you if your focus has been entirely on your cholesterol levels. There is mounting interest in homocysteine and the threat it poses to heart health.


Homocysteine is a toxic by-product of a normal bodily process and ordinarily would be detoxified by the liver before it can do any damage. However it causes problems if it is allowed to build up in the blood because high levels contribute to the thickening and hardening of the artery walls, which damages them and raises the risk of blood clots and the build-up of plaque.


It’s the liver’s job to make homocysteine safe by converting it into two non-toxic compounds that are then, actually very beneficial to the body and B vitamins are the co-workers needed for that conversion to happen. B vitamins are a family of vitamins but it is especially B6, B12 and folic acid that are used for this so a diet that is low in these vitamins is heading for trouble. B6 and folic acid are found in a wide variety of vegetables (especially green leaves), lentils and pulses, salmon and organ meats while B12 is only found in animal products. As you can see there could be a potential problem if you rarely eat these types of foods plus vegans and vegetarians have to be particularly mindful about getting enough B12, ideally through taking a good supplement.


There is a simple test that can determine your homocysteine levels so if you have any concerns chat to your GP and see if you can have your homocysteine levels checked along with your cholesterol next time.

 

4. Stress

 

Chronic stress (long-term, ongoing stress with no let-up) causes blood vessels to narrow, blood to clot quickly and accelerates the build-up of plaque in your arteries, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy your diet is.


Of all the emotions that you might feel when stressed, it is chronic depression and anger that are most linked to an increased risk of blockages in the arteries and of heart attacks and stroke.


Many people live year in and year out with unresolved issues that plague and rob them of peace and feelings of safety. I was one of those people for many years. My suppressed emotions ran so deep, I wasn’t even fully aware of them. I had to find the courage to ask for help and slowly with skilled guidance I found peace, joy and freedom. Take heart, that can be your story too. Just don’t be fobbed off with a pill to cover the pain, you are too precious for that and you have a life waiting to be LIVED! Not just survived. Seek help and deal with that stress at the source – dig that sucker out!

 

5. Food choices

 

Many choose low-fat or fat-free foods in a bid to look after their cholesterol levels and heart but are unaware that when the fat is removed from a food it then tastes horrible. Answer? Add sugar! That’ll make it taste nice again. Low or fat-free labelled foods are processed foods that usually contain high amounts of sugar along with hydrogenated fats and lots of salt. Check out a flavoured yoghurt label to see what I mean – look for the amount of sugar listed in grams – every 4g equals a teaspoon of sugar.


Refined sugar, hydrogenated fats and high salt are all unnatural and give the body big problems in trying to process them, leading to many health issues such as raised LDL cholesterol and plaque build-up in the arteries. So the particularly nasty cocktail that they make together is really bad news for heart health and yet this cocktail is everywhere – in most shop-bought cakes, biscuits, pastries, pies, ready meals, fast foods, take-aways……. If that looks like your weekly shopping list, it’s time for a rethink!

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