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Where the heart is

September is Irish Heart Month, so how can you look after your heart and your health?

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in Ireland, a sobering thought for us all. However, the good news is that you can follow a healthier lifestyle and decrease your risk of developing problems.

Janis Morrissey is Health Promotion Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation. “Positively, 80 per cent of heart disease and stroke is preventable through healthy lifestyles such as healthy diet, active living, not drinking to excess and not smoking,” she says. “High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and because it is silent, the only way to know if it is high is to have it checked regularly.

“Your risk of having heart disease or stroke is increased by certain things in your lifestyle which you have the power to change, for instance quitting smoking will almost halve your chances of having a heart attack and stroke regardless of how long you have been a smoker. Having a healthy diet with plenty of fresh foods is key to good health and helps to manage a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes which ultimately increases your risk. Eating too much salt can also increase your blood pressure and we recommend avoiding adding salt to meals or eating too many processed foods.”

Sally Smith of Open Sesame health store in Gort, Co Galway gives advice to customers on heart protection: “exercise is crucial; eat a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fish and vegetables; walnuts have a protective effect and eat as many organic eggs as you like – just don’t fry them; also fats in general are not the enemy – just cut out the refined processed foods. Look out for a cardiovascular supplement that contains arginine which helps synthesise nitric oxide and can help prevent plaque build-up.”

“There are various supplements which help with the heart,” says John Halpin of The Health Store in Dublin’s Liffey Valley. “Fish oils have a blood thinning action and can help reduce blood pressure. CoQ10 is an essential co-enzyme which can be depleted by taking statins, and would be recommended to anyone taking statins (after talking to your doctor). Hawthorn is a herb which helps with blood pressure. My lifestyle advice to help heart health includes a diet with a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables; plenty of oily fish, and cutting down on fatty meats. Regular exercise is also recommended.”

This September during Heart Month the Irish Heart Foundation will be focusing on stroke prevention

A simple test can help you recognise if someone has had a stroke:

Facial weakness – can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?

Arm weakness – can the person raise both arms?

Speech problems – can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

Time – call 999 for an ambulance if you spot any one of these signs.

The benefits of exercise

Like any other muscle in the body, the heart needs physical activity to keep in good condition. Thirty minutes of exercise five days a week is all you need and the benefits are huge. Regular physical exercise can:

  • Prevent high blood pressure
  • Reduce and control high blood pressure
  • Help to raise the level of good cholesterol in the body
  • Help manage blood sugar levels
  • Help reduce overweight and obesity
  • The best exercise for heart health is aerobic and this includes walking, cycling and swimming.

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