Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Ireland, responsible for roughly one-third of all deaths, and one-fifth of all premature deaths. In real terms, this means that about 10,000 people a year in Ireland die of heart disease.
What makes these statistics particularly saddening is that so many of these deaths are avoidable. Unlike many other conditions that may set in unexpectedly, or that are currently incurable, many of the deaths related to heart disease are a result of lifestyle choices. In order to tackle this national problem, we need to reflect on our own behaviour and make an active effort to take better care of our hearts. Below are 5 ways to look after your heart and keep it healthy.
Everyone knows that what we eat has a direct impact on the health of our hearts, and since most of us eat multiple times a day, this is an area where change and consideration can have a huge impact.
Taking simple steps, such as reducing our intake of trans and saturated fats while increasing the amount of vegetables we eat, can have a long-lasting impact on the overall health of our hearts, and drastically reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease. You can learn more about this in our blog on eating a heart healthy diet.
Of course, we can’t talk about food without also mentioning drink. In terms of alcoholic drinks, regularly consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can affect your heart and increase your risk of heart disease in many ways, such as by increasing your blood pressure, weakening your heart muscles, and causing your heart to beat irregularly.
It is also important to note that excessive drinking does not apply only to people falling down drunk in the streets; having more than 10 drinks a week is enough to increase your risk of heart disease. And in terms of sugary drinks, consuming more than 3 a day is enough to double your risk.
One way to tackle this is to get into the habit of drinking healthier alternatives, such as green tea. You can read about the benefits that green tea can have on your heart, and your overall health, in this post.
The things we eat and drink obviously have a major impact on our weight, which in turn affects our likelihood of developing heart conditions. While some may argue that weight is simply an indicator of another issue (e.g. poor diet), weight gain is a bit of a downward spiral.
People usually become overweight because they consume more than they burn off in exercise, but the fact that they have gained weight not only makes it less likely that they will exercise, it forces their heart to work harder to take care of and move a larger body. This is exacerbated by the fact that an increased buildup of plaque in the arteries means the heart has to push harder to get the same amount of work done, all of which combined greatly increases a person’s risk of heart disease.
In a previous post, we discussed some some of the best exercise classes for weight management, which can help people lose weight without putting them under too much stress.
Yoga & Pilates
Although weight is an important factor when it comes to heart health, it is not a perfect measure of a person’s health. We all know that there are people out there who can seem to eat as much as they want, never move a muscle, and still maintain a seemingly healthy weight. But it is perfectly possible that under the surface, the health of their heart is just as bad as, or worse than, someone who is heavier.
So while exercise is important, it is not always about managing our weight. In this context, forms of exercise such as yoga or pilates can be extremely beneficial. These have been shown to improve crucial elements of our cardiovascular health, such as blood flow, pressure, and sugar levels, as well as improving our mental health and the strength of our immune systems.
Exercising regularly is a great way to stay healthy, but even people who make an effort to work out could be putting themselves at risk of developing heart disease unknowingly. In today’s world, a lot of us spend a large chunk of our days sitting in one place.
Regardless of whether this is because so much of our work is done on computers, or because we are consuming ever increasing amounts of media, many of us tend to move in bursts and then remain still for long periods of time.
Even if you exercise, it is important never to let yourself settle for too long. Moving even just a small amount on a regular basis throughout the day prevents your body from going into full “rest mode”, which impacts things like muscle tone, breathing ability, and of course, your heart.
In fact, going from an extended sedentary position to rigorous exercise can be a shock to your body and actually cause damage, so check out our list of small ways you can keep yourself moving throughout the day.
Why Heart Health Is So Important
Heart disease is the biggest cause of death in Ireland, so each of us need to acknowledge that it is not some abstract thing that only affects certain people.
We mentioned earlier that heart disease is responsible for about one-third of deaths in Ireland, roughly 10,000 people. But those are just the annual deaths, and heart disease is expected to become the leading cause of disability by the 2030s. Roughly 90,000 people in Ireland have heart failure, while a further 160,000 have a “significant impairment of heart function”.
While we have seen improvements to some of these figures in recent years, we remain below the EU average when it comes to heart health, so it is up to each of us to take responsibility for our own health, and to take the steps needed to reduce our own personal risk.