5 bad habits you need to break to keep your heart healthy

Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. It is responsible for pumping blood throughout your body. If you don’t take good care of it, you could be at increased risk of heart and circulatory diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke or vascular dementia. It’s no secret that maintaining a healthy heart requires maintaining a healthy lifestyle but where to start? Breaking these 5 bad habits will help support your heart and general health – what have you got to lose (apart from the bad habits!).

1. Smoking

Smoking is as bad for the heart and arteries as it is for the lungs and increases your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases. This is because the chemicals in cigarettes make the walls of your arteries sticky, causing fatty material to stick to the walls, clogging your arteries and in turn, increasing your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The benefits of stopping smoking are immediate and increase over time. After a year of quitting smoking, your risk of a heart attack will have halved! (Source: British Heart Foundation).

Quitting isn’t easy, but there is plenty of support out there. Try some of our tips on Simple tips to stop smoking, or find support through NHS Stop Smoking Services.

2. Being inactive

Your heart is a muscle and it needs regular exercise to keep it healthy and strong – just like other muscles in your body. Aerobic exercise is the best form of exercise for keeping your heart healthy as it works your heart and lungs by making you breathe faster and more deeply.

Related blog: Aerobic exercises to keep your heart healthy

Exercising regularly doesn’t need to mean going to the gym – any activity that gets you moving is good for your heart, including walking, cycling or swimming.

It’s recommended that you include some form of physical activity daily, with some moderate-high intensity sessions mixed in with more gentle exercises and stretching, strengthening and balance.

3. Drinking too much alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption can damage your heart, leading to cardiomyopathy (enlarged and weakened heart muscle) and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).

Reducing alcohol consumption will not only help your heart but general health. The NHS recommend that adults keep their consumption to less than 14 units a week and to spread it across multiple days if you do drink.

If you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week. If you like the ritual of pouring yourself a drink at the end of the day, there are many non-alcoholic alternatives available for favourites like beer, wine and even spirits, including gin.

You might even find you have more energy for keeping up with your other heart healthy habits. To find out more about how alcohol affects your energy levels, see our related blog: Five ways alcohol affects your energy levels.

4. Eating the wrong things

Unhealthy foods like processed meats, sugary drinks and high-fat snacks can increase your risk of heart disease, as can being overweight. The two go hand-in-hand.

A healthy, balanced diet is key to keeping your heart healthy and maintaining a healthy weight – opt for wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy products instead. Try including some of these foods in your diet to help support a healthy heart:

Ten foods to eat for heart health

If you’re overweight, losing even a small amount of weight (around five percent of your body weight) can help reduce your risk of developing these conditions.

5. Adding salt to your food

Too much salt can increase your blood pressure and put a strain on your heart and circulation. As a result, the more salt you eat, the higher your risk of developing coronary heart disease or stroke.

Processed ready-meals tend to have high salt and sugar content, so be mindful of this when choosing convenience meals. Try to reduce your salt intake by not adding salt to your meals and preparing more meals from scratch.

It’s recommended that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – that’s only around 1 teaspoon which soon adds up.

Here in the UK labels on all pre-packed food detail their salt content, sometimes as a traffic-light system with red being a warning that they are high in salt. Try to avoid eating too many foods that are high in salt and check labels for hidden salt and sugar in foods that you may not expect.

Not sure where to start?

We all know how important lifestyle factors are in our heart health and breaking these habits will make a big difference in your overall health and wellbeing. If you’re not sure where to start, our health assessments can help.

Our Health MOTs include heart health markers and give you insight into your current health and what changes you may like to consider making.

To find out more about our Health Assessments, see our Health MOT packages.