Heart Hub

10 Easy Ways to Improve your Heart’s Health

Blog image 10 ways to improve heart health

1. Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for your heart. But do you know why? There are 2 main ways exercise benefits your heart:

  • It helps to lower blood pressure, bad cholesterol and burns calories, which can help with shedding any excess weight. 
  • Having short periods of time where the heart is under stress, such as from the increased demands of exercise, helps it cope better if ever it’s starved of oxygen, such as during a heart attack. This is called ‘ischaemic preconditioning”. For ischaemic preconditioning to be triggered, moderate to vigorous exercise is needed – ideally 30 minutes/day. 


2.  Quitting smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for developing heart disease. But did you know that it’s never too late to reap the benefits of quitting? 

Journal articles have varying opinions on how long it takes for the risks from smoking to totally disappear after quitting – and will quote between 2 to potentially 15 years for former heavy smokers. But, there are still significant benefits of quitting that occur much earlier, such as all the carbon monoxide in your body going within just 48 hours.


3. Alcohol

Of course, this is still somewhat controversial, and you can easily find journal articles suggesting that consuming small amounts of alcohol may be beneficial to your heart. It’s fair to say that the risk of overall harm from drinking in moderation is quite low.

Drinking excessively, however, can cause various problems with the heart. Such as, a condition called ‘alcoholic cardiomyopathy’, which is where the muscular heart walls become larger and less efficient at pumping blood around the body. This leads to blood pooling in different areas in the body amongst other dangerous consequences. Alcohol excess can also increase the risk of ‘ischaemic heart disease’ (i.e., angina, heart attacks).

For the Heart Foundation’s position statement on alcohol please click here.


 4. Body Mass Index

Being overweight (BMI >25 kg/m2) can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

But did you know that being underweight (BMI < 18.5 kg/m2) can also increase your risk? One study of almost half a million people showed that this was especially true for the younger population, with the risk being more evident in underweight people under the age of 40 years old. Before you reach for the biscuits though, it’s worth noting that the link is likely due to a reduction in muscle mass specifically, not body fat.


5. Know your cholesterol

Yes, this one can get a bit tricky with good cholesterol (HDL), bad cholesterol (LDL), total cholesterol, ratios of one to another, and triglycerides (another type of fatty product in the blood). For the sake of simplicity, let’s just leave it at this: raised levels of bad cholesterol are known to be linked with heart disease. 


 6. Know your blood pressure

This is something that is extra important as high blood pressure (hypertension) doesn’t exhibit symptoms for most people. This is worrying as hypertension is a big risk factor for heart attacks, so make sure you do regular blood pressure checks.


 7. Know your average blood sugar levels

Raised blood sugar levels can increase the risk of heart disease. If you have diabetes, improving your blood sugar control (provided you don’t go too far the other way and have lots of hypos) will reduce your risk of this.

Even for those who aren’t diabetic, having raised blood sugar levels may still increase your risk of heart disease. A good way to check your blood sugar level is with an HbA1c (‘glycated haemoglobin’) blood test. The HbA1c gives an average reading over a 3-month period in just 1 test, meaning it’s more reliable than a simple blood glucose level monitor as it gives an overall representation rather than a 1-time reading. 


 8. Know your other risk factors

  • Ethnicity: Increased risk for people of Māori, Pacific and Southeast Asian origins.
  • Medical Conditions: Increased risk for people who suffer from Migraines, Chronic Kidney Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus and of course Diabetes and Hypertension.
  • Family History: Angina or a heart attack in a first degree relative under the age of 50 years old is significant. There is also an increased risk of suffering with high blood pressure if any first degree relative has suffered from this condition.
  • Medications: Increased risk with oral steroid tablets and atypical antipsychotic medications, amongst others.


9. Diet

Diet can affect the heart in several ways:

  • Foods high in bad fats can lead to higher LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.
  • Excess salt can leak into the blood vessels, raising blood pressure. 
  • Too many calories can increase one’s BMI and risk of heart disease.

However, some studies show that consuming certain types of food such as whole grains, legumes, fish, chocolate (in moderation), and drinking one cup of coffee per day might help keep our heart healthier.


10. Connection

There are large amounts of data that show how good quality relationships can be as protective for your heart as a healthy diet and exercise regime. One report by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found evidence showing that loneliness is associated with a 27% increased risk of heart disease in people over 50. 

Applying these tips to your daily life will help improve your heart health. Even though eating a healthy diet and exercising are obvious, it can be easy to overlook their importance during daily life. But long-term health starts with small everyday lifestyle choices. You can use the Heart Foundation’s My Heart Check to get an idea of your heart age and even more tips on how to improve your heart health. 

Dr Katie P Laceholder 01

Dr. Katie Stephens


About me

Dr Katie has extensive experience working as both an NHS GP for many years as well as in private telehealth. Alongside getting her MBChB (University of Manchester, 2007) and MRCGP (2012), she also completed additional certifications, doing USMLE Steps 1-3 (United States Medical Licensing Examinations) and obtaining her cert ECFMG in 2015, and DRCOG in 2016. Katie’s special interests include Cardiology and medical training. 

GMC reference no: 6162998

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