Heart Health

Heart and circulatory diseases (also called cardiovascular diseases) are problems with your heart and blood vessels. They include:

  • coronary heart disease (heart attack and angina)
  • stroke
  • vascular dementia
  • diabetes
  • peripheral vascular disease (e.g. narrowed arteries in the leg)

Problems with your heart and circulatory system typically occur when your arteries become narrowed or weakened. This is the result of a gradual build-up of fatty material (atheroma) within the blood vessel walls. In time, your arteries may become so blocked that they cannot deliver enough blood to your heart or brain. Also, a blood clot may form, triggering an acute event such as a heart attack or stroke.

The good news is most heart and circulatory diseases are caused by risk factors that can be controlled, treated or modified. These common risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • being overweight or obese
  • having poorly managed diabetes
  • drinking too much alcohol

Family History – If you have a family history of a heart or circulatory disease, you’re at higher risk of developing conditions like angina, heart attack or stroke.

Ethnicity – Your ethnicity can increase your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases. If you’re South Asian, African, or African Caribbean in the UK, your risk of developing some heart and circulatory diseases is higher than for white Europeans.

Air pollution – Air pollution is harmful to your heart and circulation.

Stress and Mental health – Stress and poor mental health can affect your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases and is linked to unhealthy habits that increase your risk.


The good news is that there are lots of positive things you can do to look after your heart:

Stop Smoking – If you’re a smoker, quit. It’s the single best thing you can do for your heart health. Smoking is one of the main causes of coronary heart disease. Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to people who have never smoked. A year after giving up, your risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker.

Maintain a healthy weight – Being overweight can increase your risk of heart disease especially if you carry weight around your middle. Stick to a healthy, balanced diet low in fat and sugar, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, combined with regular physical activity. Ensure that you are eating the correct portion sizes.

Get active – The heart is a muscle, and like any other muscle it needs physical activity to help it work properly. Getting and staying active can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It can also be a great mood booster and stress buster. Do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. One way to achieve this target is by doing 30 minutes of activity on 5 days a week. If this would be difficult for you at the moment, try starting at a level you can manage and increase the time and intensity of your activity as your fitness improves over time. Fit the activity in where you can, such as by cycling to work.

Get your 5 A Day – Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. They’re a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. There are lots of tasty ways to get your 5 A Day, like adding chopped fruit to cereal or including vegetables in your pasta sauces and curries.

Cut down on saturated fat – Eating too many foods that are high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood.  Foods high in saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, lard, cream, cakes and biscuits. This increases your risk of heart disease. Choose leaner cuts of meat and lower fat dairy products like 1% fat milk over full-fat (or whole) milk.

Cut down on salt – To maintain healthy blood pressure, avoid using salt at the table and try adding less to your cooking. Once you get used to the taste of food without added salt, you can cut it out completely. Watch out for high salt levels in ready-made foods. Most of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy. Check the food labels as a food is high in salt if it has more than 1.5g salt (or 0.6g sodium) per 100g. Adults should eat less than 6g of salt a day in total which equates to about 1 teaspoon. Flavour can be added to food by using herbs and spices instead.

Drink less alcohol – Do not forget that alcohol contains calories. Regularly drinking more than the NHS recommends can have a noticeable impact on your waistline. Excess alcohol intake can also raise blood pressure. Try to keep to the recommended daily alcohol limits to reduce the risk of serious problems with your health, including risks to your heart health.

Eat Omega 3 fats – Fish such as pilchards, sardines and salmon are a source of omega-3 fats, which may help protect against heart disease. You should aim to eat fish at least twice a week, including a portion of oily fish. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not have more than 2 portions of oily fish a week. If you are vegan or vegetarian you should eat flax seeds, which are small brown or yellow seeds. They are often ground, milled, or used to make oil. These seeds are by far the richest whole-food source of the omega-3 fat or alternatively Chia seeds which are tiny black seeds that are full of nutrients.