It’s St Dwynwen’s Day, the day we celebrate the Welsh patron saint of love here in our Wales homeland! Our very own St Valentine lived in what’s now the Brecon Beacons National Park and is said to have been the prettiest of King Brychan Brycheiniog’s 24 daughters. So, with love in the air and our hearts on our sleeves, here’s how to look after your own heart (before giving it away, of course!).
- Move it
It’s been called the miracle cure, is free and has immediate effects - so why aren’t more of us doing it? We’re talking exercise, of course, and this doesn’t have to mean lifting weights at the gym or signing up to an SAS-worthy assault course. The NHS recommends spending 150 minutes each week carrying out ‘moderate’ activity, which could be a spot of gardening, walking your children or grandchildren to school or playing with them in the park. As well as reducing your risk of heart disease or stroke by up to 35%, you’ll feel a whole range of other benefits too, including better sleep and improved mood.
- Get a pet
Having a pet may help improve heart health, according to the experts over at Harvard Medical School. Several studies have shown pet ownership to have a positive impact on stress levels, with petting an animal having a soothing effect. Dog owners in particular benefit, partly because they tend to get more exercise, with their heart rate and blood pressure going up less and returning to normal more quickly in times of stress (don’t think about getting a pet just to boost your health, though - you need to love animals and be able to care for them too!).
- Food for thought
A number of superfoods are known to have a beneficial impact on heart health, including Omega 3-rich fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, and some types of nuts (try almonds, walnuts and unsalted peanuts). Several studies have shown that drinking one cup of green tea each day lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and drinking three cups also lowers the risk of stroke, while the really good news - wait for it! - is that eating dark chocolate daily reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who are more susceptible in the first place.
- Stub it out
Giving up smoking or not taking it up in the first place is one of the kindest things you can do for your heart, according to the British Heart Foundation. Smokers are twice as likely as those who have never smoked to have a heart attack, while it also increases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, meaning your heart has to pump harder to supply your body with the oxygen it needs, while nicotine also makes your heart work harder. The good news is that even if you’ve been a smoker for a while, the benefits begin quickly once you’ve kicked the habit. The BHF has a helpful guide on stopping smoking, with practical tips and support.
- Reduce your alcohol intake
Too much alcohol can also have a harmful effect on the health of your heart, causing problems such as abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle and other diseases including stroke, liver problems and some types of cancer. Alcohol can also lead to weight gain, which in itself adds to the pressures on your heart. UK guidelines are that men and women shouldn’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, and several days each week should be alcohol-free.
We work with a number of leading insurance partners to offer cover for a range of cardiovascular conditions and heart aftercare, including comprehensive and limited cover depending on your own health and individual circumstances. Find out more about how private medical insurance can help you and your family.