Heart disease is actually more common than you think. A third of Irish people die each year from heart disease, yet it’s avoidable.
The foundations of the disease are laid down in our early years and studies show that 80 per cent of it is preventable.
“Cardiovascular disease starts years in advance,” says Dr Angie Brown, Consultant Cardiologist and Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation.
“And it’s usually not the fancy stuff that makes you live longer,” she adds. “It’s always about the basics: weight, cholesterol, keeping diabetes away and staying off the cigarettes.”
So what can you do to avoid it?
Get Your Body Moving
You don’t have to run marathons or do triathlons to maintain a general level of fitness. Simply by being active for a sustained period of 30 minutes – five days a week you will lower your chances of getting a heart attack.
So, get that body moving! Join a gym, take part in an outdoor exercise activity or ditch the car and walk to work.
Eat your greens
You probably think that the Indian take-away you’re planning to have tonight will not matter in the future, think again!
The diet that you’re eating now is laying down the foundations for your future health and if you’re overweight you’re putting your heart at risk.
Ireland has one of the worst obesity records in the world. According to a government report published last year, six out of every 10 adults is overweight in Ireland and with children, it’s one in every four.
Our advice? Ditch the fried food, the desserts and the sugar in your coffee. Opt instead for a balanced and nutritious diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and wholegrain foods.
Step away from the wine
Do you enjoy a glass of wine or two in the evenings? Like to meet your friends for a few pints at the weekend? Or maybe you use alcohol to relax after a hard day at home with the kids?
It’s easy to get into the habit of drinking too much, but this is another important factor in the fight against heart disease.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol raises blood pressure, which is one of the biggest risk factors for a heart attack or stroke.
Women are advised to drink no more than 11 standard drinks per week and for men this number is 17.
Smoking is one of the major factors affecting heart disease. It increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot.
So, if you’re a smoker, quit as soon as possible. This is especially important for women, says Dr Angie Brown.
“Women metabolise nicotine a lot faster than men, so a cigarette will increase a woman’s risk [of heart attack] a lot more than it will in a man,” she says.
“Eighty per cent of women who have heart attacks under the age of 40 are smokers, and of the women who have heart attacks under 50 years old, 60 per cent are smokers.”
Is heart disease in your family?
Knowledge is power. Know your family medical history and the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke. You are more likely to have a heart attack if other family members did.
For example, you’re considered to have a family history of cardiovascular disease if your father or brother was under the age of 55 when they were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, or your mother or sister was under the age of 65 when they were diagnosed.
You need to have your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis – and especially so if you have a history of heart disease in your family.
Take up meditation
A practice like meditation, which helps you to relax, will have a lasting effect on your health and limit your chances of heart attack in the future.
In fact anything which helps you to relax – yoga, deep breathing, even a leisurely bath – will lower your stress levels and helps to balance your blood pressure.