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When you decide to make some healthy lifestyle changes, there can be a lot to think about. What kind of changes do you want to make? Why do you want to make them?

Maybe you’re thinking about changing your diet, getting fitter, or losing weight. Perhaps a mixture of all three. It can be overwhelming knowing where to start and finding the motivation to keep going.

You could start by looking at one place in particular. There’s a part of your body that is especially important to take care of because it takes care of the rest of you. Your heart does so much for your body. Looking after your heart can drastically improve your healthy lifestyle.

How can you keep a healthy heart?

Know Your Numbers

Let’s talk about cholesterol. We all have cholesterol in our bodies, which is natural and normal. However, there are certain kinds of cholesterol where if the amount is too high, it can increase the risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. High cholesterol does not have symptoms so it’s important to go to your GP for a blood test.  To find out more about getting tested for cholesterol, check out the NHS guidance.

When you get the results back, it can be a bit confusing knowing where to look out for. Here’s a handy way to help you understand your results. You’ll receive:

Total Cholesterol – this includes the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood

HDL – This is a healthy kind of cholesterol. A good way of remembering this is focusing on the H. H for healthy.

LDL & Non-LDL – This is the unhealthy kind. Focus on the L. You may want to lower this number.

Triglycerides – A fatty substance similar to LDL & Non-LDL.

If you’re confused or concerned about cholesterol results, please don’t hesitate to contact your GP or practise nurse.

Types of Fat

Understanding cholesterol can help you improve your heart health. If you are looking to lower your LDL, or just generally eat heart-healthy food, it can help to be aware of the kinds of fat you’re eating.

Lowering the amount of saturated fat in your diet can help improve your cholesterol. You can find saturated fats in animal products, especially sausages or meats with visible fat on them. You can also find saturated fat in lard, butter, palm oil, coconut oil, cakes and biscuits.

Try to reduce your saturated fats and increase your unsaturated fats. You can find unsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, and oily fish such as salmon or mackerel. Plus, eating an overall balanced diet, including fruit, veg and wholegrain products can help your heart.

Understanding Food Labels

Another way you can improve your heart health with your diet is by reducing your salt intake. Try to avoid adding extra salt at the table and look for reduced salt options in supermarkets.

Understanding and being more aware of food labels can help you make heart-healthy choices. The traffic light system can be a great way of quickly checking food contents. Red means high, amber is medium, and green is low. We’ve written about reading food labels for sugars, as there can be different words meaning the same thing. The same goes for salt. When checking your food labels watch out for: sodium, salted, brined, cured and pickled. Try to reduce your intake of foods that have high levels of these.

Physical Activity 

There’s more to having a healthy heart than what goes into your body. Moving your body can make a huge difference too. There are so many benefits of physical activity, but one in particular we’d like to highlight is that exercising regularly can reduce your risk of heart disease.

We understand that physical activity can be challenging or daunting. You don’t have to go running every day or sign up for intensive gym classes. The best kind of activity is one you enjoy. You can start small if you like. Try sitting less during the day and find ways of moving more at home. If you’re in need of motivation, you could look at local activity groups. Our team over in Suffolk offer a Get Help to Get Active programme.

Smoking

Finally, we thought we’d mention smoking. We’ve previously written about the benefits of stopping smoking. Again, here we’d like to take a moment to focus on the heart health benefits. Once you quit smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure will begin to return to normal after 20 minutes. You should find exercise is easier after 2 – 12 weeks. After one year of quitting smoking, your risk of a heart attack is halved compared to a smoker’s.

If you’re interested in stopping smoking, getting more active, or improving your health, we’re here to help. We’re proud of all the healthy lifestyle services we offer.

If you want to know more about heart health, check out these resources:

–      Benefits of Exercise

–      Help Getting Active with Long-Term Health Conditions

–      Cholesterol Levels

–      Smoking –  BHF

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