How to lower your ‘heart age’
One in 10 men aged 50 has a heart age of 60. This was the recent finding of Public Health England (PHE), following analysis of the results of its online Heart Age test.
PHE says that 7,400 people die from heart disease or stroke every month, and people under 75 account for a quarter of deaths, most of which can be prevented. And the issue certainly doesn’t just affect men: more than 900,000 women in the UK are living with heart disease and it kills nearly three times more women than breast cancer.
So what can you do to improve your heart health and lower your heart age?
1. Stop smoking (and that includes social smoking)
Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who’ve never smoked, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF). One reason is that smoking damages the lining of the arteries, leading up to the build-up of fatty material that narrows your arteries. Quitting is “the single best thing you can do for your heart health,” says BHF. Just one year after giving up, your heart attack risk will be halved.
2. Reduce saturated fats and ‘bad cholesterol’
BHF says too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which can increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Saturated fats can be found in fried food, pastries, processed meat products such as sausages, cream and cheese. Read our guide to cholesterol.
3. Keep your blood pressure in check
A normal blood pressure (BP) is about 120/70mmHg, although up to 140/90mmHg is considered to be within the normal range. High blood pressure is often symptomless and 7 million people in the UK currently have high blood pressure, but do not know it. If you don’t know your BP, make an appointment with the GP or nurse, or at a participating pharmacy. Many people’s BP can be lowered or kept in check with lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, lowering salt and alcohol intake, having strategies to cope with stress and by being active.
4. Mind your weight
If you’re overweight, your heart has to work harder. Maintaining a healthy weight can cut down the strain on your heart and help protect you against high blood pressure and lower your cholesterol, helping to keep your heart healthy. Measure your waist to find out if you’re overweight. Women’s waists should be below 80cm (32 inches) and men should aim for a waist measurement of less than 94cm (37 inches). For people from a South Asian background, who are at higher risk, this is 80cm (32 inches) for women and 90cm (35 inches) for men.
5. Get more active
Activity and exercise helps to lower your risk of coronary heart disease. It can feel like it’s difficult to fit exercise into daily life, which is why the British Heart Foundation has come up with the 10 Minutes to Change Your Life campaign, with some helpful tips to add exercise into your daily life, such as walking rather than driving and taking the stairs instead of the lift. Or you could download and try the NHS Couch to 5k app and set yourself the challenge of getting fit through running.
6. Keep an eye on your health
NHS Health Checks are estimated to have prevented 2,500 heart attacks or strokes in their first five years, due to people receiving post-check treatment if necessary. If you’re not eligible for an NHS check or want a more detailed investigation, you might want to consider a Benenden Health Assessment. There are five levels of checks and the most popular, ‘Advanced’, includes investigations such as a cardiovascular risk score and cholesterol readings, as well as bowel cancer screening, blood tests to check organ function and many other investigations not available in a standard NHS check-up.
Check out your heart age here.
If you’re a Benenden Health member, you can contact our 24-hour GP advice line if you’re concerned about your health and would like to speak to a qualified GP.