How to keep your heart healthy

18 March 2021

Smoking is one of the top contributors to developing cardiovascular disease but it is also the most controllable risk factor with heart disease. Avoiding smoking altogether or even quitting can have a hugely positive effect on your heart health and overall health. 

According to a CDC study carried out in 2019, 14 of every 100 adults over 18 in the US were currently smokers meaning approximately 34.1 million US adults smoke. At the time there were more than 16 million adults in the US living with a smoking related disease. 

There are lots of benefits that come with quitting smoking. After just 20 minutes of quitting your circulation improves and your blood pressure and heart rate will lower. This instantly lowers your risk of heart attack. One year off cigarettes, your risk of heart attack halves and after 15 years your risk of heart attack is the same as that of a non-smoker. 

If you would like to quit smoking talk to your doctor to decide the best approach. 

There are lots of better choices we can make with what we eat to help keep our hearts healthy. One way is to reduce the amount of trans fats we consume while increasing healthy fats in our diet. 

Trans fats come in two types - natural and artificial. Natural trans fats exist in some meat and dairy products in low amounts while artificial trans fats are created through a process of adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol levels (LDL) while lowering your levels of (HDL). Increased LDL will increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. 

An overall healthy diet is also needed to help prevent heart issues. The American Heart Association recommends that people eat a variety of healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables and grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, pulses, poultry, lean meats and fish including two portions of oily fish per week. 

Currently, only one in five adults and teens in the US get enough exercise for good health. The AHA has created a guide of recommended exercise for heart health. 

Advice includes 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise. Aerobic activity helps to strengthen the heart muscle and improves the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body. It also helps to boost good cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol. Aerobic activities include brisk walking, running, swimming, tennis, cycling, weight and interval training. 

Another key action to take is reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down each day. Studies show that sitting for prolonged periods of time can increase your risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and back pain. Nasa’s Dr Levine has described sitting as “the new smoking”. Try to stand for at least 5 minutes every hour with a goal of 2 hours standing per day. 

Some other ways to increase activity include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking instead of driving, completing housework and doing gardening. 

Getting enough sleep is a key component for keeping your heart healthy. Lack of sleep can put you at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease no matter how old or how healthy a lifestyle you have. 

In a study of 3,000 adults over the age of 45 it was discovered that those who slept fewer than six hours a night were almost twice as likely to have a stroke or heart attack compared to those who slept six to eight hours per night. 

The goal is to sleep for 7 - 8 hours each night to contribute towards good heart health. 

If you are overweight you are at a higher risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart failure and other heart injuries. Hopkins medicine recommend the following: 

  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Have your heart risk assessed and check levels of BMI, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugars
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heart failure. These include fatigue, irregular heartbeat and shortness of breath

BMI or body mass index is used to gauge a healthy weight bracket for people based on their height. A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered healthy while anything over that ranges from overweight to obese and anything under it is considered underweight. This Hopkins study revealed that for every 5 points of body mass index gained by a person their risk of heart failure rose by 32%. 

Try our BMI calculator and speak to your doctor to identify a healthy weight for your body and your heart. 

There are more steps you can take to help improve and maintain your heart health. These include:


  • Managing your cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Stress management
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Having your heart risks analysed by a professional if there is a history of heart problems in your family.

Despite our best efforts for good heart health it is impossible to guarantee. Make sure that your international health insurance provides the cover you need to stay healthy.