How to improve your heart health

We believe that in order to provide care for someone with heart issues, you must have knowledge on the subject. That’s why we explore the common heart issues, the risk factors and what you can do to improve heart health in this post.

Even though information and awareness surrounding the importance of heart health is at an all-time high, many of us aren’t taking care of our hearts. In 2017, figures showed an increase in deaths as a result of heart and circulatory diseases among under-75’s in the UK for the first time in 50 years. Today, there are over 7 million people nationwide living with a heart and circulatory disease. It is clear that we need to do more when it comes to heart health.

While there are some factors that we can’t control – such as genetics and a family history of heart conditions – there’s a lot we can do to boost heart health and live longer and healthier lives.

At Better Healthcare, our care workers have a wealth of experience in caring for people who suffer from heart issues, so we know the ins and outs of heart health. Though we understand that no two people are the same, there are things that our care workers can recommend to improve the overall quality of life of patients. Much like our specialised home care and live-in care services, we aim to support, empower and reassure. Here’s all the information you need to understand how your heart works and what it needs to stay healthy long-term.

How the heart works

The human heart is an organ responsible for distributing blood all around the body, supplying organs and tissues with oxygen and nutrients. Your heart beats around 100,000 times per day, sending around five litres (roughly eight pints) of blood through your circulatory system. The heart has two sides which work together to do this. The right side of the heart receives de-oxygenated blood, which it then pumps to the lungs via the pulmonary artery, where the lungs pick up oxygen. The blood is then directed to the left side of the heart through the pulmonary veins, where it is pumped through the arteries around the rest of the body. This freshly oxygenated blood is essential to the running of the body’s organs.

Common heart health issues

There are a number of different heart conditions – many of which are collectively known as heart disease – that can affect how healthy the heart is and how someone feels. Here are 10 of the most common of these problems:

Heart attack

The most well-known heart problem is undoubtedly a myocardial infarction – or, as it’s more commonly known, a heart attack. This happens when the blood supply to the heart muscle becomes blocked, often due to blood clots forming within the coronary arteries or to fatty deposits (also known as ‘plaques’) breaking off from the blood vessels. A heart attack can cause damage to the heart and can even be fatal.

Coronary heart disease (CHD)

Coronary heart disease is the most common heart and circulatory disease in the UK, responsible for many other conditions relating to the heart – such as heart attacks or angina. It happens when the coronary arteries narrow or become blocked, stopping the flow of blood supply to the heart.

Stable angina

While not an illness in itself, angina is a symptom of the aforementioned CHD. It is often felt when there is discomfort or pain across the body – particularly the chest, neck, stomach, arms or jaw – and this is known as an angina attack. Essentially, it is the body’s way of telling us that it’s not getting the oxygen it needs – perhaps due to us being too active or being under a lot of stress. Identifying the activity that causes angina to occur is vital in preventing any further attacks. When this can be tracked, it is known as stable angina.

Unstable angina

If existing angina symptoms get worse and appear without any particularly strenuous physical, emotional and/or mental triggers, then this is known as unstable angina. It happens as a result of a more severe restriction of blood supply. As such, an angina attack may even occur when the person is asleep and can last for many minutes. If you are experiencing such symptoms on a regular basis, see your doctor immediately – you may be admitted to hospital.

Congenital heart condition

This condition occurs within the structure of the heart during foetus development. It can refer to one or more heart defects, that will often lead to complications for the baby and problems in later life. There are over 30 potential heart defects associated with congenital heart disease. Fortunately, there are many people born with a congenital heart condition who go on to live full lives, and 80% of children with congenital heart disease will reach adulthood.

Inherited heart condition

Also known as genetic or familial heart conditions, these are heart issues passed through a person’s family and can affect anyone at any age. If a person in a family has died suddenly as a result of a heart problem, this should serve as a sign for family members to get their heart checked.

Heart failure

When the heart muscle is unable to pump blood properly and can’t give the body enough blood and oxygen to function, then this is what is known as heart failure. Symptoms include consistent bouts of dyspnea (shortness of breath or difficulty breathing) and/or feeling fatigued. There are many causes of heart failure, though it is often hard to pinpoint the exact cause. Some examples include; high blood pressure (hypertension), heart attack and inherited heart diseases, such as cardiomyopathy. Heart failure can be fatal, but life expectancy for people diagnosed with heart failure has improved thanks to medical advancements and a better understanding of the condition.

Abnormal heart rhythm

Known by the medical name of arrhythmia, this is when the heart muscle’s electrical system is disrupted or interrupted – causing either the heart to beat slowly (bradycardia), too fast (tachycardia) or irregularly. Atrial fibrillation is one such irregular heartbeat and can end up causing blood clots within the heart that end up breaking off and getting lodged in the blood vessels supplying the brain, causing an ischaemic stroke.

Valve disease

The heart’s valves open and close to control the flow of blood to the heart. Problems with these valves can cause the heart considerable strain, leading to produce a series of symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, dizziness, dyspnea (shortness of breath) and swollen ankles.

High blood pressure

While not a heart condition in itself, high blood pressure (or hypertension) can cause problems relating to the heart – such as strokes, coronary heart disease and heart attacks.

Heart disease risk factors

As there are a number of different heart conditions, there is a wide range of risk factors. Generally, however, there are a number of common themes present when examining the risk factors associated with heart disease and heart problems. They can be split into uncontrollable risk factors (things you can’t control) and controllable risk factors (things you can control).

Uncontrollable risk factors

There are a number of uncontrollable risk factors that can significantly increase your risk of developing or living with an undiagnosed heart problem, such as:

  • Being born or assigned male at birth: It’s thought that cardiovascular disease is the main reason why women, on average, live longer than men.
  • Being older: Those aged 65 or above are more at risk of developing a heart condition, often due to age changing the way in which the heart and blood vessels work.
  • Race: People of South Asian (e.g. Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Indian) and African Caribbean descent are more likely to encounter a number of heart (or heart-related) conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
  • Familial history: If heart conditions run in your family, you should be more observant of your heart health, and the heart health of family members, than other people without such a history.
  • Being postmenopausal: While menopausal women generally have a lower risk of living with coronary heart disease, this risk increases after the menopause due to the blood vessels becoming stiffer and the arteries narrowing.

Controllable risk factors

Despite some risk factors being out of your control, many are related to lifestyle choices. Here are some of the top risk factors of heart conditions that could be controlled:

  • Physical inactivity: Living a sedentary lifestyle, or not being physically active, increases your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases.
  • Smoking: Considered the most important step in controlling the risk of heart conditions, smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. It also increases the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes.
  • Cholesterol levels: Whether you consume too few ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) or too much ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL), both can cause a number of processes that can cause heart conditions such as heart attacks, heart disease and other problems.
  • Weight: If you are considered medically overweight or obese, you are at increased risk of developing heart disease. However, being underweight can also lead to heart conditions such as arrhythmia.
  • High blood pressure: If your blood pressure is constantly high or out of control, the longer-term pressure on your artery walls can end up causing a whole host of medical conditions, including heart disease and heart failure.

Tips to improve your heart health

If you want to improve your heart health, there are a number of ways in which you can promote this through lifestyle changes. Here are some of the best ways to boost the health of your heart – irrespective of whether you are living with a heart condition or not. However, it is advisable that you consult with your GP or a healthcare professional before enacting any changes that could affect your heart health.

1. Negate the risk factors

The aforementioned controllable risk factors can play a large role in determining the health of your heart. To improve heart health, try to do the opposite of these risks. Maintain a healthy weight, give up smoking, try to make changes to reduce your blood pressure, regulate your cholesterol levels and keep physically active.

2. Dietary changes

There are a number of other changes you can make to keep your heart as healthy as it can be. There are few foods better for your heart health, and overall health, than eating fruit and vegetables. Try and consume 1 extra portion a day, and your whole body will eventually feel better for it. Fruit is great in the morning alongside whole grain (such as bran flakes or porridge). If you eat meat, try and eat less red meat and eat more seafood. Nuts are also a great snack food good for your heart – such as almonds, peanuts, walnuts and others. Try to stop drinking away your daily calories allowance by dropping high-calorie drinks. Also, eat more fibre and less saturated fat. Higher ‘bad’ cholesterol levels can be associated with saturated fats, while fibre can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

3. Exercise as best you can

While not everyone can exercise rigorously, many people can walk to keep physically active. A brisk, 10-minute walk per day is a great way to bolster heart health. Lifting weights is also a great way of exercising, and you don’t even need to start with anything big to feel the effects. Ideally, 30 minutes of activity per day, during the weekdays, is the optimum amount of exercise.

4. Monitor your blood pressure levels

It can be a good idea to monitor and document your blood pressure levels – preferably on a daily basis. This can help you identify particular behaviours, actions, activities or dietary triggers that may adversely affect your blood pressure levels. You can buy a blood pressure monitor for this purpose.

5. Get in a good mental place

People who are depressed, feeling socially isolated and who don’t have a good support network are known to have a higher risk of heart disease. If you suspect you’re suffering from a mental health issue, try and talk to your loved ones, GP or therapist.

How Better Healthcare can help promote heart health

If you are living with a heart condition, managing a heart issue can be hard. It requires dedication, vigilance and a lot of patience. This isn’t just true of those who are managing their own heart health but also applies to people who are caring for a loved one with a heart condition.

At Better Healthcare Services, we understand that it can be difficult for you and your loved one. Whether you are living with a heart condition, or you are caring for someone with a heart condition, you need support that is tailored and adapted to you and your needs. For people living with heart conditions, that can include, collecting prescriptions from the pharmacy, supervising medication and offering companionship. Better Healthcare can provide you with this help through our excellent home care and live-in care services.

For more information on how we help improve the lives of people living with heart conditions, simply call our friendly team on 0800 668 1234 to find out more or contact your local Better Healthcare office today.

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