There are currently approximately 7.6 million people in the UK living with heart and circulatory diseases.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions that affect your heart or circulation.
CVD is one of the main causes of death in the UK and it is estimated that more than half of us will get a heart or circulatory condition in our lifetime. There are many different types of CVD – four of the main types are: coronary heart disease, strokes and TIAs, peripheral arterial disease and a group of conditions called aortic diseases.
There are many factors that can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Many of these risk factors can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle, so it is imperative that we all take care of our health.
Some of the risk factors that we can all control include blood pressure, weight and level of activity. Do you know what your blood pressure (BP), body mass index (BMI), or heart rate is or should be? If you don’t know what your health metrics are, how can you know if you are healthy or not? And on that note, what IS healthy?
Let’s take a look…
Your heart is a muscular pump – it pumps blood around your body through blood vessels. Blood pressure is created by the force of your heart pumping blood out and the resistance of the vessel walls through which the blood passes.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is usually written down like this: 120/70 mmHg. There are two numbers, because BP varies as the heart beats. The high number is the peak pressure created as the heart beats. The lower number is the pressure within the vessels as the heart rests between each beat.
Ideally, we should all have a BP below 120/80. At this level, we have a much lower risk of heart disease or stroke. If your blood pressure is consistently higher than this, then we suggest you read the guidance below to try to bring it down. If your BP averages above 140/90 across three readings, then we advise to consult with your GP as soon as possible. This may indicate that you have high blood pressure (also known as hypertension).
If you have diabetes or other risk factors, your doctor will want to make sure that your BP is well controlled.
Heart rate (or pulse)
A normal resting heart rate for adults is between 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness, e.g., a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.
If your resting heart rate consistently averages above 100bpm across three readings, or your pulse does not feel like it is regular, we advise you consult your GP as soon as possible.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs; however, it is also found in some of the foods you eat.
High blood cholesterol is a condition in which you have too much cholesterol in your blood. By itself, the condition usually has no signs or symptoms, so many people don’t know that their cholesterol levels are too high. People who have a high blood cholesterol have a greater chance of getting heart disease.
Having a test is the only way you will know if you have high cholesterol. Your total cholesterol should be5mmol/L or less.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI uses your weight and height to work out if you are a healthy weight. Being a healthy weight can reduce other risk factors such as blood pressure, which will help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. BMI is measured in kg / m2 and the ranges are:
- Underweight = less than 18.5 kg/m2
- Normal weight = 18.5 to 25 kg/m2
- Overweight = 25 to 30 kg/m2
- Obese = more than 30 kg/m2
BMI should not be used on its own to assess health risk as other factors should be considered, for example, very muscular people may be a healthy weight even if their BMI suggests they are in the ‘obese’ range. Check out the NHS BMI calculator for more information: www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/bmi-calculator/
How to lower your risk
There are many lifestyle factors that you can address in order to lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and there are some recommendations below.
- Reduce salt intake
Eating too much salt pulls water back into blood which raises BP. You should try to eat salt in moderation, and using food labels can help you make low salt choices
- Eat plenty of fruit and veg and wholegrain foods
As part of a healthy, balanced diet, we should aim for 5-7 portions per day. Fruit and vegetables provide the balance of nutrients and vitamins that are crucial to help keep us healthy. Wholegrain foods are a great source of nutrients and fibre and can help to lower blood pressure.
Cut back on caffeine
Excessive caffeine intake can significantly increase blood pressure. You don’t need to cut caffeine out completely but try to consume in moderation. Try using decaf options to replace caffeinated drinks after having 1-2 per day.
- Manage your bodyweight
Being inactive allows fatty material to build up in arteries and around the body, which can lead to increased body mass. By losing weight, self-esteem and mood are also boosted, which is great for stress and mental health.
- Heart health
Exercise plays an obvious role in helping manage weight, it also helps keep your heart healthy, meaning it can pump more blood with less effort.
- Stop smoking
If you smoke, you should try and give up as soon as possible. It will reduce your risk of heart and attack substantially, as well as reducing your risk of lung disease.
- Drink alcohol in moderation
Drinking alcohol increases blood pressure. Blood pressure will typically be elevated for 12 hours, meaning regular drinking will lead to a sustained increase. The recommended alcohol limit is 14 units per week. It is also important to have at least 2 alcohol free days per week, in order to give blood pressure a chance to normalise following drinking.