Did you know that 170,000 people in New Zealand are living with heart disease? If you break that figure down, that’s more than 1 in every 23 adults.

What can you do to prevent yourself from becoming that 1 in 23? Actually, quite a bit.

By reviewing your health and lifestyle habits and making some changes, you can vastly improve your cardiovascular health: the health of both your heart and your blood vessels. At Specialist Vein Health, ​​our Vascular Surgeons treat abnormalities with blood vessels, which are like highways in your body that allow blood to flow quickly and efficiently from the heart to the outer region of your body and back again. 

It’s a new year—the perfect time to set some goals and change up your routine to maintain your cardiovascular health. Keep reading to find out how.

Why Is Cardiovascular Health Important?

Your heart is a vital organ. If you don’t take care of it, you may end up with heart disease. Heart disease is an umbrella term for a variety of heart conditions. The most common of these is coronary artery disease (CAD). Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to your heart, keeping it pumping. CAD happens when fatty material, or plaque, builds up within these arteries. This can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.

There are many conditions that can cause CAD, including:

  • high cholesterol,
  • high blood pressure,
  • diabetes,
  • sleep apnea,
  • smoking,
  • stress,
  • unhealthy diet/weight,
  • not enough exercise,
  • too much alcohol.

Fortunately, there are things you can do every day to avoid these conditions and keep your heart in good shape.

1. Exercise regularly

One of the most important things you can do for your overall health is to get regular exercise. Physical activity also has a positive impact on your heart health. Exercise makes your heart stronger—don’t forget it’s a muscle! A stronger heart requires less effort to pump blood. When the force on your arteries decreases, your blood pressure is lowered.

Getting control of your weight is easier with regular exercise. Increased body weight has been linked to both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Exercising burns calories that might otherwise be stored as fat. Aerobic exercise is great for your heart health, providing cardiovascular conditioning. Types of aerobic exercise include walking, swimming, and cycling, to name just a few. Anything that gets your heart rate up. Some flexibility and stretching activities are also helpful to your heart. These exercises can reduce the thickening of the arteries that lead to high blood pressure or a stroke. Yoga is a great example of this type of exercise. Try to fit in some exercise every day. It doesn’t even have to be formal. Parking your car further from your destination will give you some walking time. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Get a fitness tracker to count your steps and set yourself a daily goal.






2. Mindful Nutrition

As with exercise, the right diet can have a positive effect on your overall health. And you can target your heart health in particular with some smart choices when you sit down to eat. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre. These substances can prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. A heart-healthy diet contains 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit every day. Here are just a few of the fruits and vegetables that are great for your heart:

  • apples,
  • blueberries/blackberries/raspberries,
  • tomatoes,
  • broccoli,
  • asparagus,
  • carrots,
  • garlic,
  • onion.

The fibre in whole grains can help regulate blood pressure and contribute to good heart health. Falling into this category are bread, starchy vegetables, and cereal. These foods should take up a quarter of your plate. Try switching to whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, and high fibre cereals. Limit foods like white bread, doughnuts, and egg noodles. Reducing the amount of sugar you’re taking in will also be good for your heart. Sugar can hide in many processed foods and, if eaten too much, can cause heart disease, along with other health issues. Soft drinks, flavoured yoghurts, and pasta sauce are examples of foods high in sugar. Be sure to read the labels on the foods you’re buying and opt for foods with reduced sugar.

3. Reduce Your Alcohol Intake

Drinking too much alcohol can cause many types of heart issues, from heart attacks and strokes to high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia. It’s important to moderate the amount of alcohol you’re consuming. All alcoholic drinks are labelled with how many standard drinks they contain. A standard drink has 10 grams of pure alcohol.

The Ministry of Health recommends 2 standard drinks per day for women and no more than 10 a week. For men, the recommendation is 3 standard drinks a day with no more than 15 in a week. They also recommend 2 alcohol-free days a week. If you have high blood pressure, extra weight, or heart failure, these recommendations may be too high. Consult with your GP to find the safe amount of alcohol for you.

4. Quality Sleep

It’s hard to get enough sleep these days. Everyone is so busy. Making time for a good night’s sleep, however, can boost your heart health. Experts are still working on the effects of poor sleep and sleep disorders on the heart. They have found, though, a link between too much or too little sleep and heart disease. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia are also linked to heart disease. There are varying ideas of how many hours of sleep are optimal, but most experts agree that somewhere between 6 and 8 hours is best. A full night of rest can decrease your risk of heart disease. As a bonus, it will also result in healthier brain function and emotional wellbeing, among other benefits.

5. Take Care of Your Mental Health

While making changes to improve your physical health, it’s important not to leave out your mental health. People with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or stress are at risk for heart disease. These disorders can lead to an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and heightened levels of cortisol. Among other effects, high levels of cortisol can lead to high cholesterol levels. Take time to do things to improve your mental health. Stay physically, socially, and mentally active. Think positively. Learn to do something new. If you’re having problems with your work, your relationships, or your emotions, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Your heart will be better for it, both physically and emotionally.

You and Your Vascular Health

If you have concerns or want to understand how you could improve your vascular health, contact us at Specialist Vein Health today.