On this year’s World Heart Day (29th September), show your heart some love – it’s one of the hardest working of your organs, and certainly one of the most important. That’s why the World Heart Federation wants to remind us all how essential it is to look after your heart’s health, and how relatively easy it is to take steps to ensure it stays in good condition.
Heart disease and stroke is the world’s leading cause of death, annually killing around 17.3 million people worldwide. While these conditions tend to be associated with men and older people in the popular mind, in fact women and children are not immune.
About 1 in 3 women die from cardiovascular-related illness, accounting for about half of the total number of deaths from this cause. Children as well are at risk of developing heart disease later in life if healthy habits aren’t established early on – not to mention how stressful it can be for children to watch a loved one struggling with the effects of heart disease or stroke. This is why the World Heart Federation is focusing on heart-healthy living for women and children this year, in an attempt to raise awareness that the risks to your heart are still there regardless of age or gender.
Our modern lifestyle poses a number of challenges for the heart health of children and adults alike. Saturated fats, trans fats, sugar and salt are prevalent in the processed foods that feature strongly in many of our diets, and obesity is a growing problem for all ages. It doesn’t help that many of us don’t get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and spend hours at a time seated at computers or in front of the television.
Still, with a few simple tweaks to our lifestyle, we can all significantly lower our risk of heart disease and stroke. These include maintaining a healthy weight through a combination of balanced diet and regular exercise, quitting smoking, and taking steps to manage our stress.
A balanced diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, plus lean protein, whole grains, and healthy unsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts, fatty fish and olive oil. You don’t have to cut out unhealthy treats entirely – simply reduce the quantity and frequency of these, and fill up your plate with nutritious choices the rest of the time.
Similarly, getting your daily physical exercise quotient doesn’t have to be difficult. Alongside more traditional exercise, such as running or going to the gym, a wide variety of activities count toward your total. Housework, playing with the kids, and skipping the escalator in favour of the stairs all qualify as physical activity, and these all add up.
Even better, start walking all or part of the way to work – walking is one of the easiest and most effective forms of exercise, and everyone can do it. If you need a bit of motivation, try one of the many excellent walking apps that help you track your progress – for instance, Walk the Tube is a free tube map app from PruHealth that marks out the shortest route between tube stations and shows the number of steps you’ve taken, letting you skip the crowds and delays on the London Tube and get some exercise in the process.
Are you doing anything for World Heart Day this year? What steps do you take to keep your heart in good health?