A healthy heart

A heart is for life. The good news is that we’re looking after our hearts better and have a greater chance of surviving a heart attack, but could do better. Exercise and a balanced diet can help you to look after your heart.

Songwriters and poets may claim otherwise but in fact the human heart is tough; made almost entirely of muscle, feeding blood vessels 60,000 miles long and beating about 35 million times a year with each beat powerful enough to shoot blood a distance of 30 feet. Not bad for something that weighs less than a pound.

Coronary Heart Disease

In the last decade, the death rate from heart attacks in England has halved but coronary heart disease (CHD) affects millions of people and is still the number one cause of death in the UK. CHD happens when the blood supply to the heart muscle is reduced because the heart’s arteries become too narrow or, worse still, are blocked.

Thousands of deaths from CHD could be prevented by simple changes to lifestyle; diet, exercise and stopping smoking.

Diet – think thirds

The ideal healthy diet is roughly a third fruit and vegetables, a third starchy food like bread, rice and pasta (preferably wholemeal) and the last third a mixture of dairy food, meat, fish and other foods.

Use foods high in unsaturated or ‘good’ fat like olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, nuts and seeds instead of hard cheese, butter and cream.

Don’t pass the salt

Easy on the salt; adults need less than six grams a day and three quarters of that comes from processed foods, not necessarily ready- made meals but daily staples like bread, biscuits, cheese, sausages and cereals. Even so-called ‘healthy’ options often have a lot of salt and saturated fat. Food labels usually list sodium rather than salt so it’s worth knowing that 1g of sodium is the equivalent of 2.5g of salt – aim for less than 1.5g salt or 0.6g sodium per 100g.

Get active

It doesn’t matter how active you’ve been in the past, it’s regular exercise that counts by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, keeping body and mind in good nick. It doesn’t have to be a marathon, just reasonable exertion for 30 minutes five times a week – a brisk walk, gardening, swimming – even vigorous housework counts!   


There are numerous benefits to stopping smoking, particularly for your heart. If you need encouragement to quit, remember that within a year of stopping smoking, your risk of heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker.

Don’t panic

Sadly, someone in the UK has a heart attack every two minutes and one in three of those people will die within 24 hours. Knowing what to do when someone has a heart attack can save lives.

If an adult collapses, isn’t breathing normally and is unresponsive, they are in cardiac arrest. There is no time to lose so call 999 immediately and then push hard and fast in the centre of their chest about 100 - 120 times a minute until the ambulance arrives.


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