Heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death in the world and is the leading cause of death in males in the UK. The British Heart Foundation estimates that more than half of UK adults will suffer from a heart or circulatory condition in their lifetime.
heart health - The risk factors
Risk factors are things that can raise your risk of developing heart conditions. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop heart and circulatory diseases like heart attack or stroke. Risk factors include conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, inactivity, smoking and carrying extra weight, particularly around your middle.
It is never too early to be kind to your heart! You can protect your heart health with habit upgrades.
The good thing is that we can reduce our risk factors with healthy lifestyle choices. Upgrading habits to healthier ones and making small changes to our daily routines can make a big difference to our heart health. These include regular physical activity, a healthy diet, quality sleep, not smoking, managing stress levels and following medical advice if required. Unfortunately, there are some factors that are out of our control such as family history (genetics), age and sex (men have a higher risk of heart disease).
We are what we repeatedly do – excellence is not an act but a habit - Aristotle
Habit upgrades and how they can help
First of all, let’s look at what the word habit means! A habit is something you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing you are doing it! In other words, our habits become a way of life and are ones that we do automatically! So it makes sense to have habits that are good for us, not the other way around! Taking action to form new habits (or habit upgrades) will result in progress and transformation.
Here are 6 habit upgrades that will help protect your heart health and put you on a journey to achieve optimal wellbeing.
You may find your new habits ‘stick’ much quicker than you think!
- 1Drink water first thing: Replace your first drink of the day with a glass of water, or you could try a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon. This daily ‘internal shower’ will hydrate your cells, energise your mind, support detoxification and remind you that prioritising you is the most self-less thing you can do!
- 2Regular moderate exercise and physical activity: Most of us know that regular physical activity is beneficial to our overall health. Frequent exercise is particularly good for our cardiovascular health and is associated with a decrease in cardiovascular mortality and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.3 Start with small goals – remember progress not perfection – start with 10 minutes of exercise at a time a few times a day! Your heart is a muscle so will thank you for regularly increasing its beats per minute! Try upgrading your activity by spending 10 active minutes outside every day, in addition to increasing your heart health, this habit upgrade also balances hormones, increases energy, improves sleep quality, and increases vitamin D absorption! Complete it after a meal for digestive benefits too!
- 3Prioritise 7 to 9 hours sleep: A habit upgrade could be turning off all screens about half an hour before bedtime. The light from screens can alert the brain and make it harder to fall asleep. Inadequate sleep not only deprives you of energy and productivity it also elevates inflammation which is particularly hazardous to heart health. In addition to this, your brain cannot detoxify without sleep, by sacrificing hours you’re accelerating the aging process and the likelihood of poor mental health.
- 4Consume as many different colour vegetables as possible every day: Eating more vegetables is a guaranteed way to consume more water (hydration), fiber (digestion & detoxification), and micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals). A good way to upgrade your eating habits, even if you are not a fan of vegetables, is to try adding vegetables to your cooking – you could add finely chopped courgettes and mushrooms to a chilli con carne, or extra vegetables such as carrots, celery or leeks to a beef stew. Try experimenting with soups, smoothies and stir fry dishes! Or if you don’t have time to cook, look at the ingredients in the meals that you are buying and go for the one packed with the most veg!
- 5Move every 45 minutes: Set reminders for energy breaks with a posture stretch. This habit upgrade helps with your blood flow and circulation. It also reduces the harmful effects of sitting such as musculoskeletal problems & lethargy whilst boosting natural energy!
- 6Relax and reset with your breath: When we’re very stressed we breathe from our chest instead of our diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing is proven to reduce stress, anxiety & blood pressure whilst improving lung efficiency. Try upgrading your breathing habits, which may be shallow, to consciously taking deep breaths down into your belly, through your nose and out through your mouth, for about 5 minutes.
Have you had a blood pressure reading lately?
Blood Pressure UK run an awareness campaign every September to encourage the whole of the UK to know their numbers and find those with undiagnosed and uncontrolled high blood pressure Their theme this year is Measure, Modify, Manage
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References and further reading