How to ensure you have a healthy heart

How to ensure you have a healthy heart

There are many steps you can take to help protect your heart health and you may need to be prepared to make some changes to ensure you have a healthy lifestyle.

This might mean de-stressing and enjoying a relaxing spa treatment, improving your diet, quitting smoking or dusting off the hiking boots and going out for a trek in the countryside.

The World Heart Federation has found that heart disease and strokes are the world's leading cause of death, with an estimated 17.1 million people dying as a result of these conditions every year.

To help encourage people to get out and be active and to live healthier lifestyles, World Heart Day will be taking place on 29th September to drive home the message that heart problems can be prevented.

With this worldwide campaign in mind it is the perfect time to start thinking about how you can make your heart healthy. Here, with the help of some experts, we take you through the different ways you can keep your ticker in good working order.

De-stress with a spa treatment

De-stress with a spa treatment

Research that has been published in the Lancet shows that stress can lead to heart attacks and strokes and this demonstrates the importance of taking time out and relaxing.

Nutritionist London’s Penny Crowther says, “There is a link between stress and cholesterol since cholesterol is the raw material for making stress hormones. So when we are stressed, cholesterol production will increase. Cholesterol will test high after stressful events such as surgery. Then it will decrease again. Stress also produces a high amount of free radicals which cause oxidative damage.”

One way to de-stress is to enjoy spa days with friends or loved ones as this offers you a great opportunity to forget the stress of everyday life and instead enjoy a number of personalised spa treatments.

Recommended spa treatments to help you de-stress

Champneys pick me up facial – when you need to de-stress, we recommend this 25-minute facial as it will give you a quick pick me up so you are ready to face the world.

Champneys Head in the Clouds Massage – this blissful scalp, neck and shoulder massage will release tension and reduce stress as you enter a cloud of relaxation.

Champneys body wrap – another relaxing treatment as you cocoon yourself in a nourishing veil of conditioning body butter or aromatherapy oil.

Champneys Time – this package ranges from 1-3 hours and allows you to experience new levels of chill. It includes massages and facials, but you can add specific treatments to your experience.

Go on a retreat

Going on a specialist spa retreat with friends or a loved one is another great way to relax.

You can go on a number of specialist retreats to suit you and these range from sleep retreats to mindfulness and meditation retreats. Here we recommend some of the retreats that you should consider.

Mindfulness and meditation retreats - Our specialist mindfulness and meditation retreats are renowned for helping you to de-stress and this as well as advice on nutrition and fitness and stress control are all aspects of the retreat.

Health Management retreats – At Champneys we believe health and wellbeing is important and by booking onto this retreat it will help you to manage your health and wellbeing effectively.

Sleep Retreats – Our sleep retreats with Jason Ellis, a leading sleep expert, will help you understand any sleep problems you may have and will help you tackle them to achieve the eight hours of shut-eye we need per night.

Katy Gray of Heart Research UK, explains how important it is to get enough sleep to allow you to reduce stress. She adds, “Try to get around 8 hours of undisturbed sleep each night and minimise excessive stress in your life where possible. Strike a healthy work-life balance, do something that you enjoy - just because, and enjoy the company of friends and family and make time to have some fun.”

Improve your diet

Improve your diet

You need to fuel your heart and this means eating and drinking well and by making just a few simple changes to your diet it can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

A spokesperson at the British Heart Foundation, says, “Our diet can affect a range of risk factors for heart disease including our cholesterol levels, weight and blood pressure.

“Aim to eat a balance of the different food groups – a traditional Mediterranean style diet is a good way to think about it – plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain and high fibre starchy carbohydrates and some lean proteins such as beans and pulses, eggs, fish or lean meat, as well as low fat dairy products. Use unsaturated fats for cooking or spreading such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oil and cut down on sugary drinks and sweet or salty treats.”

Louise Robertson of Dietitians Life recommends eating a balanced diet that includes lots of fish, fruit and veg and small amounts of dairy and meat.

She says, “Increase that fruit and veg! Most people in the UK don't meet their 5 a day. A good start is to aim to have at least 1-2 portions of fruit/ veg / salad with every meal.

“Make your diet high in fibre or wholegrain. Eating more of these foods helps to lower heart disease risk. They also help to fill you up and decrease risk of snacking. High fibre foods include whole grains, pulses, fruit and veg. Swapping white bread for whole meal or granary and rice and pasta for brown versions. Soluble fibre also helps lower bad cholesterol, this includes oats, oat bran, beans, lentils and chickpeas so include some meat free meals in your diet too!”

When discussing foods to avoid Louise Robertson says, “Get the salt shaker off the table, use more herbs and spices and less readymade meals.

“Cut down on saturated fat (found mainly in animal products) and replace with moderate amounts with unsaturated (sunflower, soya and rapeseed oils and spreads, nuts and seeds) and monounsaturated fats (olive and rapeseed oils and spreads, avocado, some nuts including walnuts, almonds and pecans). Cut down on processed and takeaway foods.”

Katy Gray from Heart Research UK says that a high portion of your food should be fruit and vegetables.

The charity says, “Over a third of your food should come from fruit and vegetables and people should aim to include at least five portions per day. Another third of your daily food consumption should be made up of starchy foods ideally whole-grain, high fibre foods such as bread, rice and pasta, breads and cereals.

“Try to opt for low-fat and low sugar dairy products and drink 6 – 8 glasses of fluids which can include water, tea, and milk but not fizzy drinks, sweetened fruit juice and squash.

“Look out for the traffic light system on food labels to help you make healthy choices opting for green wherever possible.”

Anti-inflammatory foods are vital to include as part of your diet as a substance in the blood called C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker for inflammation and a predictor of cardiovascular problems. Penny Crowther from the Nutritionist London explains why it is important to include anti-inflammatory foods.

She says, “Include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in the diet such as ginger (put a 1oz piece in a juicer with an orange, 2 carrots and 1 apple for a delicious and healthy drink), garlic, green juices and green vegetables.  Garlic also contains sulphur compounds which are important for cardiovascular health. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an extremely potent antioxidant, with the ability to significantly reduce oxidation of fat. 

“Onions, garlic, kale, French/runner beans and apples contain bioflavonoids which are anti-inflammatory, promote good blood circulation and strengthen capillaries. Hesperidin and rutin, two flavonoids which are very beneficial for varicose veins, are found in abundance in citrus fruits. Other flavonoids called catechins found in green tea, red wine, peaches and hawthorn berries are very protective to the heart.”

Petronella Ravenshear, a nutrition expert and owner of Chelsea Nutrition, highly recommends for you to read the ‘The Pioppi Diet – a 21 Day Lifestyle Plan’ by cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra as it looks at the importance of having a good lifestyle.

Petronella lists some interesting health advice from the book:

- Don’t be afraid of eating fats; eat 10 eggs a week.

- Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates; although carbs contain far fewer calories than fat they raise insulin (which makes us fat and adds to inflammation).

- Consume extra virgin olive oil and a small handful of nuts every day.

- Eat more vegetables.

- Fast once a week for 24 hours - have dinner, then don’t have breakfast or lunch the next day.

Making sure you don’t overeat is very important and if you want to be constantly reminded that you need to really think about your portion size you can buy a Champneys plate to help you!

Move your heart

Move your heart

It is vital to stay active as not only will it make you feel refreshed, but it lowers the chance of you suffering from heart disease or if you have a heart condition it can help you manage it better. Physical inactivity is a major cause of heart disease as it can increase blood pressure, contribute towards diabetes and cause weight gain.

Taking part in exercise can have an immediate impact on your health as well as protect it for the future too.

The British Heart Foundation recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity or 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week.

Discussing the recommended exercises, the British Heart Foundation says, “The type of activity recommended is ‘aerobic activity’, such as walking, jogging cycling, dancing, and swimming.”

The British Heart Foundation’s staying active booklet says you should break down the 150 minutes of physical activity you need to do into 10 minute sessions throughout the day if you are finding 30 minute exercise too tough.

The benefits of exercise

There are a whole host of benefits of exercising and some of the positive changes include:

- Being more energetic

- Feeling less stressed and anxious

- Sleeping better

- Improved self-confidence

- Better concentration

- Getting a sense of achievement

Stop smoking

Stop smoking

Stopping smoking is regarded as the single best thing you can do to improve your heart health and therefore reduce the likelihood of suffering from heart disease or a stroke. Second-hand smoke also causes heart disease in non-smokers and therefore smokers who stop are not only improving their own health but the health of all those around them.

Dietitians Life’s Louise Robertson says, “If there is one thing you change then it is to stop smoking. It is single largest cause of preventable death in our society.”

Our 2 night break called Kick the Habit will give you the support needed to stop smoking and included in the break are hypnotherapy sessions and access to around 20 different classes per day.

Drink less alcohol

Drink less alcohol

Too much alcohol raises blood pressure and increases your weight, which as a result increases the risk of a heart attack. High blood pressure puts a strain on the heart muscle and can lead to cardiovascular disease and those who drink regularly and consume more are likely to increase blood pressure.

Dietitian Louise Robertson adds, “Drink less alcohol and limit to healthy guidelines of no more than 14 units per week spread out over the week with at least 2 alcohol free days during the week.”

Katy Gray from Heart Research UK, adds, “Alcohol intake should not exceed the maximum recommended units of 14 units for both men and women, also ensuring you spread this out over the week, including alcohol free days.”

Check your heart age

If you are over 40, it is recommended that you have a health check at your doctors or practice nurses’ to check your risk of developing a heart condition.

You can also check your heart age with a really cool tool on the British Heart Foundation website, which you can see here: