Heart disease is one of our most common health problems with around 1.4 million people in the UK having survived a heart attack. Heart and circulatory diseases cause a quarter of all deaths in the UK (more than 160,000 deaths each year), and cardiovascular disease is both the UK’s and the world’s number one killer*. While weight can be a major contributing factor in heart and circulatory diseases, there’s a lot more you can do to cut your risk.
Slimming World nutritionist Alexandra Clark shares some advice on keeping your heart healthy. She says:
“Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease and can also help reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are both associated with increased risk. Eating more healthily and getting more active are known to improve heart health yet we know changing habits that have formed over years – sometimes decades – takes time. The in-depth support and encouragement shared at our weekly Slimming World groups is what helps our members to make long-term behaviour changes. Our programme is built on a deep understanding of how people with a weight problem feel, coupled with a healthy eating plan based on the science of energy density and satiety – a powerful combination.”
7 things we can do to help maintain a healthy heart
Tackle your weight. Being a healthy weight is one of the key things you can do to support your heart health, and even a small change can make a big difference. Losing just 5% of your body weight can reduce the risk of heart disease and could play a significant role in preventing treatable heart conditions.
Limit salt intake. Eating too much salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which in turn is a risk factor for heart disease. Ready meals and sauces are often high in added salt, whereas cooking from scratch puts you in control and can help to reduce your salt intake. Check salt levels on labels – adults are recommended to limit their daily salt intake to no more than 6g a day.
Cut down on fat. High intakes of saturated fat (for example fatty meats, butter, cakes, pastries) can lead to high cholesterol levels and weight gain. You can limit this type of fat by eating fewer foods high in saturated fat, and choosing lean meat (such as 5% fat mince), trimming the fat off bacon and other fatty cuts of meat, and taking the skin off poultry. Some foods such as avocado, olive oil and nuts contain healthier fats, however it’s still advisable to eat these in small amounts.
Fill up on fibre. Support a healthy heart by choosing plenty of fruit and veg (skin on for extra fibre!) and higher fibre starchy carbs such as skin-on potatoes, wholewheat pasta and brown rice. As well as keeping our digestive systems working well, fibre can help with satisfying our appetite (so helping with weight management). Plus, some fibre-containing foods – such as oats, beans, peas and lentils – are particularly good for our cholesterol levels.
Eat fish twice a week. White fish, such as hake, cod or haddock, is a really lean source of protein – while oily fish, like sardines, mackerel and salmon, provides protein and is a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, through helping to prevent blood clots, improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure and reduce triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood). Aim for a portion each of white and oily fish a week as part of a balanced diet to support heart health.
Get active! A lower risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease are just a few of the benefits that come with moving more and sitting less. Getting active in any way you fancy is beneficial, so whether you head outdoors for a walk or cycle, pop to the gym for a swim or exercise class, or keep on top of the housework or gardening at home (it all counts!), you’ll be helping to keep your heart healthy.
Stop smoking. Cutting down, quitting or not being a smoker at all can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
“I had two heart attacks in one week – at only 38”
After a 999 emergency, trucker Leigh lost 2st 13lbs in six months with Slimming World. He says:
“I lost 7½lbs in my first week as a Slimming World member, and wished I’d joined years earlier! Slimming World taught me new ways of looking at food and how to make healthy changes I could stick to. My Consultant explained Food Optimising, and I was surprised at the variety of food I could eat. I’ve never felt hungry or as if I’m missing out. I’ve learnt so much about myself as a slimmer, and being aware of my danger zones and trigger points has been crucial in helping me to lose weight. I find the support from the other members really powerful, too, and if you have a tough week, group is the best place for expert advice and encouragement.
Since l lost weight, I’ve had so much more energy. I never did any exercise before as I was always too tired. I never walked anywhere and sometimes I’d even drive 300 yards to the shop! Now I’m passionate about being active and I love hill walking in the Peak District or the Shropshire Hills.
I was always so worried about my health. I couldn’t think about anything else, especially after the heart attacks. Losing weight has freed me from that worry and given me a new lease of life.”
You can read Leigh’s full story here.
*British Heart Foundation (BHF)
**World Health Organisation (WHO)