Top 10 Tips for a healthy heart.

A human heart

1. Stop smoking. Quitting smoking is the single most important thing a person can do to live longer. If you are a smoker, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack than a non-smoker. But from the moment you stop smoking, the risk of heart attack starts to reduce. With public smoking bans recently introduced, there has never been a better time to give up.

2. Cut down on salt. Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Avoid foods like crisps, salted nuts, canned and packet soups and sauces, baked beans and canned vegetables, pork pies, pizzas and ready meals. Many breakfast cereals and breads that appear healthy also contain high levels of salt, so keep your eye on these too.

3. Watch your diet. A healthy diet can help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, and can also help increase the chances of survival after a heart attack. You should try to have a balanced diet, containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish, starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice. Avoid foods like biscuits, cakes, pastries and dairy products that are high in saturated fats and sugar.

4. Monitor your alcohol. Too much alcohol can damage the heart muscle, increase blood pressure and also lead to weight gain. Binge drinking will increase your risk of having a heart attack, so you should aim to limit your intake to one to two units a day.

5. Get active.The heart is a muscle and it needs exercise to keep fit so that it can pump blood efficiently round your body with each heart beat. You should aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day. If this seems too daunting, start off gently and build up gradually. Keeping fit not only benefits your physical health – it improves your mental health and wellbeing too.

6. Manage your weight. The number of people who are overweight in Britain is rising fast – already more than half of the adult population is overweight or obese. Carrying a lot of extra weight as fat can greatly affect your health and increases the risk of life-threatening conditions such as coronary heart disease and diabetes. If you are overweight or obese, start by making small, but healthy changes to what you eat, and try to become more active.

7. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked by your GP. The higher your blood pressure, the shorter your life expectancy. People with high blood pressure run a higher risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. High levels of cholesterol in the blood – produced by the liver from saturated fats – can lead to fatty deposits in your coronary arteries that increase your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diseases that affect the circulation. You can help lower your cholesterol level by exercising and eating high-fibre foods such as porridge, beans, pulses, lentils, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

8. Learn to manage your stress levels. If you find things are getting on top of you, you may fail to eat properly, smoke and drink too much and this may increase your risk of a heart attack.

9. Check your family history . If a close relative is at risk of developing coronary heart disease from smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of physical activity, obesity and diabetes, then you could be at risk too.

10. Make sure you can recognise the early signs of coronary heart disease . Tightness or discomfort in the chest, neck, arm or stomach which comes on when you exert yourself but goes away with rest may be the first sign of angina, which can lead to a heart attack if left untreated.

· Health tips from the British Heart Foundation

Studies show that heart disease in women actually bigger killer than breast cancer.

Surprising, but true: More women now die of heart disease than men, yet cardiovascular research has long focused on men. Pioneering doctor C. Noel Bairey Merz shares what we know and don’t know about women’s heart health — including the remarkably different symptoms women present during a heart attack (and why they’re often missed).

C. Noel Bairey Merz is director of the Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, where she is a professor of medicine

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How healthy is your heart?

Continuing from Last months theme about heart health, here are a few general heart statistics that are disturbing.

•    Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel disease) is still the leading cause of death in New Zealand, accounting for 40% of deaths annually.
•    Every 90 minutes a New Zealander dies from coronary heart disease (16 deaths a day).
•    Many of those deaths are premature and preventable.
•    Obesity is a risk factor for a number of diseases including coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), osteoarthritis and some cancers.
•    One in twenty adults have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease. That’s 161,000 adults and includes 118,500 with angina and 89,400 who have had a heart attack resulting in them being hospitalised.
•    Approximately one in two New Zealanders are obese or overweight.
•    One in five New Zealanders older than 15 smoke.
•    It is estimated that 5,000 people in New Zealand die prematurely from smoking related illnesses each year – this equates to around 12 people a day dying from smoking.