Our hearts are the powerhouses of our bodies. They beat day and night, pumping blood around our arteries, veins and capillaries, carrying oxygen-rich blood to all our organs and deoxygenated blood back to our lungs. Therefore, they must be kept in the best possible condition.
We are told to keep our cholesterol levels low and not to let our blood pressure become too high to safeguard our hearts. We can help ourselves achieve these goals by living as healthy as we can.
A blood pressure test measures the pressure in your arteries, which carry oxygenated blood away from the heart. Two measurements are taken – one when your heart beats and the second lower one when it is a rest between beats; for example, 140/90. If you are otherwise healthy, this is the figure in which you should aim to be below.
A higher reading than this means your heart is overworking. Try to be calm when you are going for a check. If you rush to the surgery in a panic, can’t find a parking spot, run up the stairs etc your blood pressure will be naturally higher.
Usually, high blood pressure does not make you feel ill. What it does is makes you more susceptible to strokes and heart attacks. Try to follow the healthy lifestyle guidelines outlined. If you can’t reduce your blood pressure naturally, it is important to take the medication your GP will prescribe for you.
Cholesterol is a soluble fat carried in our blood. It is measured by taking a blood sample. Two measurements are taken – LDL and HDL.
LDL may be called bad cholesterol and this is a contributory factor in developing fatty lumps or atheroma which block up the blood vessels, causing them to narrow (hardening of the arteries).
This can increase the risk of stroke, angina or more serious problems. HDL is a good cholesterol which can help prevent atheroma forming. The desirable level is five or under for total cholesterol and in this measurement, the more HDL the better.
The rule has been to prescribe a statin for undesirable levels. But there are now different options, ranging from giving everyone a statin if they are over 50 for a man, 60 for a women – to not giving them at all. So try to help yourselves by living a healthy lifestyle.
The most important thing to keep your heart healthy is to exercise. Try to do 30 minutes most days, brisk walking, cycling or swimming will do. Cut down on alcohol, sugar and salt. Stop smoking. Eat five (or even more) fruit or vegetables a day. Try and eat two portions of oily fish a week, eg mackerel or salmon, and reduce your saturated fats content, such as fat on meat. And of course, try and have fewer processed foods, especially those with a high salt and sugar content.
The best supplement to take is omega 3 fish oils (but do discuss with your pharmacist as these can sometimes interfere with medication); also check your Vitamin D levels and supplement if necessary. Co-enzyme Q10 is also often useful, and Magnesium can often be of help to many people as our diets are often deficient in this vital mineral.
Hawthorn berry (Crataegus) may improve heart muscle strength. If you would like to try a natural way to help bring down your cholesterol, you could try plant sterols; these are often added to foods, but can also be bought as a supplement.
Please ask your pharmacist about any of these products and about your medication if it is prescribed for you.