A healthy heart is vital, and there are plenty of ways you can take care of yours, from eating enough of the right foods to giving up a few undesirable habits. There is a lot of conflicting advice out there about heart health, but helping to maintain the heart and circulatory system healthy in general can actually be simple – here are just some of the diet and lifestyle changes you can implement to make a difference, starting today.
How to keep a healthy heart: 10 tips
1. Get active.
Exercise is a vital way to maintain heart health, helping to increase the level of “good” HDL-cholesterol in the blood. To keep your heart in good shape, the NHS recommends doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity (such as hiking, walking fast, or cycling on flat ground) five days a week.
If you have a busy lifestyle and you’re not sure how to keep your heart healthy through exercise, don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to fit a little more activity into your week. Consider cycling or walking to work, using your lunch break to fit in a little extra activity, or try doing one or two of our 10-minute workouts at the beginning or end of the day. Classes and teams are available for all kinds of sports, from running and rambling groups to water aerobics or roller derby – opt for a hobby you really enjoy, and you’ll soon start to look forward to your workout.
2. Replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat in your diet.
You do actually need to eat fat, but the kind of fat you consume can have an effect on cholesterol levels, which in turn can affect your heart health. Swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to lower LDL-cholesterol, one of the risk factors of heart disease*.
Read food labels to determine the quantity of each fat in your food when shopping, replace meat products, baked goods and dairy products high in saturated fat in your diet with high in unsaturated fat or reduced fat options, or check out our guide to saturated fat and unsaturated fat to find out more.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of having elevated LDL-cholesterol and low HDL-cholesterol. A healthy diet and plenty of exercises are key for a healthy heart – check out the fitness section of our site for plenty of workouts to inspire you!
4. Eat less salt.
For a healthy heart, watch your sodium intake. Avoid adding salt to food, and check the label of anything you buy to avoid options with high salt content – that’s over 1.5g of salt per 100g.
Plant sterols have been shown to significantly lower LDL-cholesterol by helping to actively remove cholesterol from the body. Eating 1.5-2.4g of plant sterols per day can lower cholesterol by 7-10% within 2-3 weeks, when consumed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle with sufficient fruit and vegetables*.
While plant sterols are naturally present in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables, it’s not feasible to eat the amount you’d need for cholesterol lowering from these foods alone. Opting for foods with added plant sterols, such as those in the ProActiv range, is a simple way to get the amount you’d need to actively help lower cholesterol.
6. Quit smoking.
Giving up tobacco use has a number of benefits for your health (and wallet), not least of which is that it can help take care of your heart. Staying motivated doesn’t have to be a challenge, either – to help make the process easier, consider quitting with a friend, or joining an NHS Stop Smoking Service. Your GP will be able to talk to you about the resources available to support you.
It may also help to be aware of what triggers the urge to smoke for you. Whether it’s stress, or just seeing others smoke, recognising these can help you avoid situations in which you might otherwise find it challenging to stay smoke-free.
7. Eat fish.
Try to eat fish twice a week, with one of those meals including oily fish in particular. Salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, and sardines are all oily fish containing plenty of Omega-3, which contributes towards the normal function of the heart. Once a week, try to include one of these tasty options in a meal. There are plenty of recipes here on the ProActiv site for inspiration: mackerel with Moroccan spices and baked trout with almonds are both popular options.
8. Have a healthy, balanced diet.
You are what you eat (figuratively) and the foods you eat have an impact on your health. Make sure your diet includes your five a day of fruit and vegetables, plenty of fibre, and lots of variety. You can find out more about what a balanced diet is and how to make sensible dietary choices for heart health in our article here.
9. Stick to sensible alcohol consumption.
We often receive conflicting advice about alcohol and its effect on the heart, but the key thing is – if you drink – to drink in moderation. NHS advice differs according to gender: men should avoid regularly drinking over 3-4 units of alcohol in a day, and women should try not to regularly drink over 2-3 units in a day.
10. Stress less.
When you are stressed, you are not at your best, and it can increase the lure of unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, or over-eating. Try to take some time out of each day to relax and clear your mind, or take up a hobby you find restful. Walking, swimming, yoga, art, and meditation are good options.
If you’re wondering how to have a healthy heart, the tips above are a great starting point. It’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional as well – you might be surprised by the range of help and advice available to you, on everything from diet to alcohol and tobacco use. Healthy hearts are important, and it’s never too late to start taking care of yours – why not make a change today?
* High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are multiple risk factors for heart disease, and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.