5 Easy ways you can love your heart

By Dr Sunthar Kanaganayagam, consultant cardiologist at Chiswick Medical Centre, part of HCA Healthcare UK.

Looking after your heart

February is the time of year where shops are filled with red hearts, flowers and sweet treats and we celebrate St Valentine, the patron saint of love and all things romantic. But throughout the year you can think about how you can help keep your own heart healthy.  

To help you show more love to your heart leading Cardiologist Dr Sunthar Kanaganayagam discusses the top 5 things to look out for.

1. Does your diet affect your heart?

What you eat can have a significant impact on your heart health. The British Heart Foundation recommends a Mediterranean diet which consists of lots of fresh vegetables, olive and canola oils, and high protein foods such as fish and broccoli.

In addition, you should limit your fat consumption. Keeping your carbohydrate count relatively low, around 130g a day, helps tremendously with weight loss and is a relatively easy change to make.

There are small but beneficial changes you can make such as switching white rice for cauliflower rice which will help you achieve this. Animal products tend to be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, so I would recommend thinking about a plant predominant diet a few days a week to reduce your intake.

2. How does quitting smoking help your heart?

This is an obvious one, however the benefits of stopping smoking will improve almost every aspect of your overall health, not just your heart health.

Whether you are 60 years old and smoke 20 cigarettes a day, or 25 and smoke two cigarettes a day, there will always be a benefit to quitting.

Smoking is a major risk factor for upsetting the lining of the arteries, predisposing you to developing furring of the heart arteries.

If you quit smoking, your risk of coronary heart disease significantly reduces. If quitting seems daunting make sure you speak to your GP about the different methods for quitting, such as nicotine replacement patches and gum.

3. How does reducing stress help your heart?

Stress has a direct correlation with heart health.

So much so, that around the time of major sporting events there is an increase in heart attacks, proving that being a sports fan can be very stressful!

Stressful jobs could similarly impact your heart health, and many of us are unaware we are putting our heart under strain because of this.

Try to manage your stress by checking in with yourself daily. Are you feeling exhausted during the day even after a good night’s sleep? If yes, this could mean you are mentally exhausted. Even if you are practising a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, ensure you take a moment out of the day to stop, reflect and think about your stress levels.

Learning how to manage stress will work wonders on the heart.

4. What is a dangerous level of blood pressure?

You should have your blood pressure checked no matter what your age as a precaution. Your ideal blood pressure should be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg.

If your blood pressure is over 140/90mmHg you should be more vigilant about the need for speaking to your GP about treatment. Whether that is lifestyle measures or medicine, keeping your blood pressure normal is crucial for keeping your heart healthy in both the long and short term.

Reducing your salt intake, eating lots of fresh vegetables and natural yogurts will also help to lower your blood pressure.

5. How does exercise help your heart?

The heart is a muscle, and like every other muscle in your body, it works better with regular exercise.

Exercise also helps the lining of your vessels, and reduces “furring” in the arteries. I would recommend exercise, which increases your heart rate, three times a week for at least 30-minutes per session.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is good for getting your heart rate up. The basic way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220 and multiply by 85 per cent.

For example, if you're 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220, and multiply by 0.85 to get a maximum heart rate of 149. This is the maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise. If you can get your heart rate up to that level without symptoms, that implies a healthy heart.


Dr Sunthar Kanaganayagam is based at the Chiswick Medical Centre, part of HCA Healthcare UK. For appointments and more information call 020 3553 9450.

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