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Six ways to lower your heart age

Tips on reducing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke

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The Straits Times

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1. WORK OUT YOUR HEART AGE

 

You may look and feel young, but is your heart letting you down?

 

Heart age is a concept that captures your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

 

There are factors that you can't change: Getting older, being male (until 55, then women start to catch up) and having a family history of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

 

Then there are the factors within your control: Smoking, exercise, diet and alcohol.

 

There are also hidden factors that don't cause symptoms but increase risk, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol or blood glucose (diabetes).

 

You can calculate your heart age using a simple online tool, but it's more accurate if you know your cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

 

2. GET A HEALTH CHECK

 

Under-40s are generally at low risk but should see their doctor if a close family member has had a heart attack or stroke at a young age. You can buy a DIY cholesterol-testing kit and measure your blood pressure at home, but it can be useful to have a discussion with a health professional, too.

 

3. QUIT SMOKING

 

At least one-third of all CVD is attributable to five risk factors: Cigarettes, high blood pressure, alcohol, high cholesterol and obesity - in that order of importance.

 

Other factors are inactivity and a poor diet with not much fruit and vegetable. So start with quitting smoking; it will be hard, yes - nicotine is more addictive than heroin - but, if you value your health, it's the most worthwhile thing to do.

 

It is best to take all the help you can get; the evidence is that you're more likely to succeed if you get psychological support, nicotine-replacement therapy and prescribed drugs to reduce cravings.

 

4. GET YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE DOWN

 

An ideal blood pressure lies between 90/60 and 120/80 and is considered to be high if it is consistently above 140/90. This is a measure of the pressure in the heart when it pumps out blood over the pressure when the heart is resting.

 

Blood pressure rises as you get older, fatter, less active, drink more alcohol and eat more salt.

 

You may have an inherited tendency to high blood pressure so even if you are slim, active, eat a great diet and are a teetotaller, you may be advised to take medication to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.

 

5. DO ENOUGH EXERCISE TO STOP YOU TALKING

 

A total of 21/2 hours a week of moderate physical activity lowers your risk of CVD by a third.

 

To count as moderate activity, you need to feel yourself getting warmer and your heart and breathing rate should increase.

 

Vigorous activity, such as a fast run or high-intensity interval training, means you can't really talk without pausing for breath.

 

Any activity is better than none.

 

6. GET THE GOOD CHOLESTEROL UP, AND THE BAD DOWN

 

Cholesterol is a fat found in food, such as meat and dairy products, and made in the liver.

 

Total cholesterol circulating in the blood is made up of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which clogs up arteries, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is protective.

 

Ideally, total cholesterol should be under 5mmol/l and LDL under 3mmol/l. But to interpret your cholesterol levels, you need to factor in other risk factors.

 

If it is high, you will be advised to exercise more and eat a low-cholesterol diet. If that doesn't work, you may be offered medication such as statins.

 

THE GUARDIAN

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.