CVD – what is it?
February is National Heart Month, aimed at raising awareness about cardiovascular disease (CVD) and how to prevent it. CVD is an umbrella term which describes all diseases related to the heart and circulation. It is one of the biggest health issues that we face in society today, with an average of 435 people losing their lives to CVD in the UK every day. So what causes CVD? And what can we do to prevent it?
The American Heart Association outlines that there are 5 main risk factors associated with CVD – obesity, elevated blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids, smoking and leading a sedentary lifestyle. There is strong evidence to suggest that reducing these factors significantly reduces the risk of having a cardiac event such as a heart attack or stroke (1). Therefore this blog is aimed at raising people’s awareness of how you can change certain aspects of your life to improve your heart health.
Regular exercise, especially aerobic, has a positive effect on many of the aforementioned risk factors. Exercise promotes weight loss and subsequently can reduce blood pressure. Exercise can also reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) concentrations and restrict the reduction in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), which is often seen when reducing fats in a person’s diet (2). Too much LDL within a person’s blood can lead to a build-up of plaque within the artery walls, which significantly increases the risk of a cardiac event.
Government guidelines recommend that in order to reduce risk of CVD, adults should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity on two or more days per week. However, according to a recent report carried out by the British Heart Foundation (3), approximately 20 million people in the UK are failing to meet this recommendation.
You may think that you don’t have time to meet the recommended activity level, but here’s the good news - you do! The guidelines don’t say that you should be training to be the next Mo Farah. Moderate exercise just means activity to the point where you become slightly out of breath. So why not get off the tube a stop earlier and brisk walk the rest of your way to work, you will increase the amount of exercise you do - making both yourself and your heart feel better!
We all know that smoking is bad for a person’s health, but do you know how exactly it affects the heart? Smoking damages the lining of the arteries and can lead to a build-up of atheroma (a fatty substance) which narrows the artery. Eventually, this substance can completely block an artery which can then lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Tobacco smoke contains carbon monoxide which reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, meaning your heart has to work a lot harder to transport oxygen around the body. Nicotine causes your heart to beat faster which consequently raises your blood pressure, leading to a significant increase risk of CVD.
Research has found that exposing non-smokers to second-hand smoke increases their risk of CVD (4), which means you could be putting your family and friends at serious harm. If you currently smoke, now is the time to quit. Stopping smoking is singlehandedly the best thing you can do to help your heart – and also the hearts of others around you! Visit www.nhs.uk/smokefree for advice and help on how to quit smoking for good.
Most of us have been guilty of having one too many every now and again - a pint at the pub with mates, another glass of wine after dinner. But do you know the effects alcohol has on your heart?
You may be thinking to yourself - ‘I heard that red wine is good for your heart’ - and you’d be right, to a certain degree. It is true that alcohol does have some cardiovascular benefits – it can help stop formation of blood clots which can often block arteries and cause heart attacks – however research suggests that these benefits are limited to women over the age of 55 who drink no more than 5 units of alcohol per week (5).
Recommended guidelines suggest drinking no more than 14 units per week for both males and females, which equates to approximately 6 pints of beer or a bottle and a half of wine. Consuming more than this amount per week can cause a person to gain weight, which can then lead to obesity - one of the leading causes of heart disease. Alcohol can also have a dangerous long-term effect on blood pressure, with research showing that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to increased risk of elevated blood pressure in both men and women (6).
Top tip – more often than not, people will drink more due to the time they spend chatting to friends. If you enjoy a drink for more of the social side of things, then why not have a non-alcoholic drink in between each wine or beer. You’ll still be there for the same amount of time catching up and hearing all about Janet’s latest trip to the Seychelles, but you’ll have pretty much halved the amount of alcohol consumed!
So remember, if you’re going for a brisk walk at lunch, saying no to that next Sauvignon or saving the money you’d normally spend on a packet of cigarettes for a rainy day, you will reduce your cardiovascular risk and your heart will love you for it!
Watch out for the next National Heart Month blog which gives some great nutrition advice on how to reduce your risk of CVD. Coming to OurBupa on Friday 24th February!
(1) Froelicher, V. F., Myers, J., Follansbee, W., & Labovitz, A. (2000). Exercise and the Heart. Chest, 118(1).
(2) Stefanick ML, Mackey S, Sheehan M, et al. Effects of diet and exercise in men and postmenopausal women with low levels of HDL cholesterol and high levels of LDL cholesterol. N Engl J Med. 1998; 339: 12–20.
(3) BHF Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour Report 2017
(4) Jones, M. R., Magid, H. S., Al‐Rifai, M., McEvoy, J. W., Kaufman, J. D., Hinckley Stukovsky, K. D., … Navas‐Acien, A. (2016). Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Subclinical Cardiovascular Disease: The Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Journal of the American Heart Association: Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Disease, 5(12), e002965. http://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.115.002965
(5) Holmes, J. et al. (2016). Mortality and morbidity risks from alcohol consumption in the UK: Analyses using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model (v.2.7) to inform the UK Chief Medical Officers' review of the UK lower risk drinking guidelines. University of Sheffield. Available at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.538671!/file/Drinking_Guidelines_Final_Report_Published.pdf [Accessed 23 May 2017]
(6) Appel LJ. Curr Atheroscler Rep. (2000) The role of diet in the prevention and treatment of hypertension Nov;2(6):521-8.