Heart disease and strokes are one of the leading causes of death, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Exercise daily

It is recommended that you exercise for 30 minutes on most days of the week. The greatest benefit of physical activity is that it can help you to maintain a healthy weight and thus prevent the development of conditions that could put a strain on your heart such as high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. The best exercises to do are those that will increase your heart rate, and this can be anything from taking the dog for a walk to something with a higher intensity. When it comes to being active, every little helps.

Don’t smoke

Smoking puts you at significant risk of developing heart disease and increases the chance of suffering a stroke because chemicals found in cigarettes narrow your arteries. Not only that, but the carbon monoxide found in cigarette smoke replaces the oxygen in your blood, thereby increasing your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder. Of course, no amount of smoking is safe but the more you smoke, the more at risk you are.

Monitor your cholesterol

Cholesterol, or a lipid, is a fatty substance that is made by the liver and is vital for the normal functioning of our bodies. It can be found in some foods, however, which is why it is quite easy to increase your cholesterol levels to a level high enough for it to affect your health. Sometimes it can be difficult to know if you have high cholesterol because there are no symptoms but it can build up in the artery wall and restrict blood flow to your heart. Maintain a healthy diet that is low in fatty foods, continue to exercise and don’t smoke, and your cholesterol levels should be at a safe level.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight can increase your risk of conditions that can cause heart disease, and this is particularly true if you carry excess weight around your middle. To see if you are currently at a healthy weight, calculate your body mass index (BMI). Generally, those with a BMI of over 25 indicate higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Enjoy dark chocolate (in moderation)

This may come as a surprise, but eating around 30 calories of dark chocolate a day can help to lower your blood pressure after only 18 weeks. Don’t go overboard, however, as this can cause weight gain or other adverse side effects. Plus, it’s best to go for dark chocolate that contains around 70 per cent cocoa powder.

Regular health tests

As we’ve mentioned, you won’t always be aware of certain conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which is why you should always attend regular health tests and screenings just to be safe.

Benefit from quality sleep

According to a 2011 study by the American Heart Association, poor sleep quality is directly linked to high blood pressure which, as we know, is a huge cause of heart disease. Aim to get more than seven hours of good quality sleep per night and scientists believe that this will allow your body to clear blood vessels from any calcium that may be clogging them.

Drink less alcohol

Drinking less alcohol but not abstaining altogether has been proven to reduce your risk of heart disease. This equates to no more than 14 units per week for women and no more than 21 units per week for men.

Change your cooking habits

If you’re partial to frying your foods, why not change your cooking habits to something that can almost certainly benefit you in the long run? Steaming and baking your meals can make them healthier simply because they don’t require anything extra, such as oil, to cook. For example, when you fry food in oil the high temperature causes the starch in the food to convert to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) and this in itself can lead to heart disease and cancer.

Meditate

Stress is another health problem that plays a huge role in the development of heart disease and strokes. Simple breathing exercises can reduce stress by slowing the breathing rate, helping you to breathe deeper and lowering the production of stress hormones. Some people try to handle stress in unhealthy ways such as smoking, drinking or overeating. This is why a more long-term solution in the form of mindfulness may be more beneficial. It could help you to be aware of how to react in certain situations, meaning that you do not become too get stressed in the first place.

By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you should automatically be less at risk of heart disease and strokes, and we’ve provided this information so that you can get started today!