Give your heart the love it needs to stay healthy

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Living Well contributor, Tamara Wells, speaks with Dr Gerry Devlin, medical director of the Heart Foundation, who discusses smart, sensible ideas for giving your heart the love it deserves.

One in three Kiwis will die of a heart-related illness. “It’s our single most common cause of death but surprisingly few people do really consider looking after their heart until something happens to it,” says Dr Devlin. Don’t ever ignore chest pain and, in the meantime, remember that keeping your heart healthy is simpler than you might think. Here are his tips:

Keep moving
“The single best piece of advice I can give is to get active,” says Dr Devlin. “Research shows time and time again that exercise is great for your heart. More is better than a little, but a little is far better than none.” He recommends 30 minutes of exercise five to six days a week.

Try swimming some lengths or taking a brisk walk that gets your heart rate up. “The trick is to find ways to make exercise part of your daily routine.”

Eat natural
When it comes to diet, the key is to avoid refined carbohydrates. “By consuming less processed foods, you’ll make your body work harder for the calories you give it and that’s got to be a good thing.” Steer clear of fad diets and instead focus on eating healthy, balanced meals low in saturated fat and salt, says Dr Devlin.

Fab fish
Lots of supplements are marketed for heart health but few have proven benefits, Dr Devlin says. Research into Omega 3s, the good fats in oily fish, looks promising, but these are best consumed on your dinner plate. 

Tighten your belt
Tummy fat is one of your heart’s worst enemies. Known as visceral fat, that layer around your middle makes toxins like cytokines that boost your chances of heart disease. The extra weight also wears out your joints, making it harder to do the exercise needed to boost heart health. 

Know your genes
If you have a parent or grandparent, aunt or uncle who had a heart problem before they turned 65 you need to take extra care. See your doctor to get a heart health check.

Glass-half-full types are partially protected from heart disease by their positive attitude, Canadian research shows. In fact, the happiest people are up to 22% less likely to develop heart troubles while those with chronic depression have an above average risk.

Lifestyle choices
Quit smoking and follow a healthy eating plan to avoid developing diabetes. “Diabetes is a potent cause of heart disease,” Dr Devlin says.

Get checked
Every Kiwi should get a heart warrant of fitness in middle age. Pakeha women should see their GP at age 55, while men should go a decade earlier, at 45. For Maori women and men, get checked at age 45 and 35 respectively.

Ask your Unichem Pharmacist about having a Heart Health Check that will let you know your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years and what you can do to reduce your risk. Your Pharmacist can complete a basic risk assessment which includes taking your blood pressure and measuring your cholesterol as well as your BMI (Body Mass Index) – they’ll explain the results and what your next steps need to be, including a referral to your GP if necessary.