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It’s the little things! Tiny tweaks to future-proof your heart, including taking your pills at night and giving blood

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It’s the little things! Tiny tweaks to future-proof your heart, including taking your pills at night and giving blood


You don’t have to go on a diet or run a marathon to improve your heart health.

In fact, those big goals can be hard to stick to — after all, how many of us have the time or motivation to run for hours a day or drastically cut calories for months on end?

Instead, a series of small changes and micro habits can have huge benefits for your cardiovascular health, reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

Here MailOnline reveals what tiny tweaks to your daily routine could have a big impact on your ticker…

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Researchers say you only need to make small changes to your routine to see a big difference in your heart health. That doesn't mean training in the gym every day. Cycling, walking and simply owning a pet can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease

Researchers say you only need to make small changes to your routine to see a big difference in your heart health. That doesn’t mean training in the gym every day. Cycling, walking and simply owning a pet can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease

Cycle for 12 minutes  

You don’t have to be a MAMIL (a middle-aged man in Lycra) to enjoy the benefits of a bike ride.

Just a short daily cycle ride is enough to start improving your cardiovascular system.

In fact, according to a 2020 study of 411 adults published in the journal Circulation, just 12 minutes of cycling is enough to activate hundreds of heart-healthy compounds.

Metabolites associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease fell by 29 per cent during exercise, while metabolites that help reduce inflammation and cardiovascular disease increased.

In fact, just a short bout of daily activity can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and insulin function, reduce levels of inflammation and stress over time.

Why high cholesterol could predispose you to a heart attack or stroke

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood and cells that the body needs to make hormones, vitamin D, digestive fluids and for our organs to function correctly.

‘The liver regulates the majority cholesterol levels in the blood and the rest comes from our food,’ says registered nutritionist at Healthspan Rob Hobson.

‘Proteins in the blood carry cholesterol around, and when they join are called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins, one good for your health and the other bad.

‘High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol. HDL helps to rid the body of ‘bad’ cholesterol by taking it back to the liver, where it is broken down and removed.

‘Non-HDL cholesterol (non-HDL) is referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol. If too much non-HDL builds up in the body, this can result in fatty deposits inside the walls of blood vessels. These deposits can narrow blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke.’

Men are more likely to have higher cholesterol than women, high cholesterol is also more likely as you age and people with South Asian origins are more predisposed to the condition. Mr Hobson adds: ‘If there’s a predisposition to high cholesterol in the family especially then it’s vital that cholesterol levels are looked at in early teens and beyond.’

Drink more coffee  

Many of us enjoy the reviving effect of a cup of coffee with its magical ability to boost energy levels, concentration and mood.

But glugging between one and five cups a day could also work wonders for our health.

According to 2015 research by Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, drinking a ‘moderate’ amount of coffee is linked to a lower likelihood of heart disease, type 2 liver and endometrial cancers, Parkinson’s disease and depression.

The researchers who analysed data from over 208,000 people aged 25 to 75 also found that decaffeinated coffee has the same positive effect. 

Yet why it’s so beneficial isn’t totally understood. ‘Coffee is certainly a very complex beverage,’ said Professor Hu a few years after the study was published.

‘Besides caffeine, it contains hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bioactive compounds. So it’s very difficult, perhaps impossible, to tease out the effects of individual compounds or chemicals.’

Donate blood 

Giving blood is one of the easiest ways we can all help others and even help save lives.

But if you have high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, it could also benefit your cardiovascular health.

A 2016 study, which observed 292 people over a year, found that regularly donating blood could be a way to help manage high blood pressure.

‘In people who donated blood on up to four occasions within a year, average blood pressure fell after each donation,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer, a medical doctor, registered nutritionist, and author of Cut Your Cholesterol.

She says that for those with hypertension, average blood pressure decreased by 12.2/6.9mgHG after four donations.

‘As a result of giving blood regularly, some participants were able to have their antihypertensive medication reduced or even stopped under medical supervision by their doctors, and five per cent had their drug therapy stopped altogether,’ she says.

Take plant pills  

This is the year to go green… and red, yellow, purple and orange.

Eating a plant-packed diet could halve your risk of cardiovascular disease, and have a significant impact on your heart health even if you’ve eaten poorly up until mid-life.

A US 2021 study by the American Heart Association, A Plant-Centered Diet and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease during Young to Middle Adulthood, tracked 4,946 adults aged 18 to 30 for 32 years.

Those who ate the most vegetables were 52 per cent less likely to develop heart disease.

Participants who changed their diets for the better in middle age were 61 per cent less likely to develop subsequent cardiovascular disease, in comparison to participants’ whose diet declined.

One of the reasons vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains are so powerful is that they contain plant sterols, a potent weapon against cholesterol.

A natural compound found in broccoli, brussels sprouts, olive oil, pistachios and sesame seeds, plant sterols reduces the amount of cholesterol being transported into the bloodstream, leading to lower levels of non-HDL (bad) cholesterol.

They also impact the amount of cholesterol the liver produces by signalling that there is enough present, which leads to further reductions in non-HDL cholesterol levels, it is thought.

A supplement, such as Healthspan’s 800mg Plant Sterols, 90 tablets for £17.95, are also a good source of plant sterols which could help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Although many of us have the daily goal of walking 10,000 steps, just 2,337 is necessary to keep your heart in good shape

Although many of us have the daily goal of walking 10,000 steps, just 2,337 is necessary to keep your heart in good shape

Walk 2,337 steps a day 

Taking 10,000 steps a day has entered our culture as a gold standard, but according to a recent study, hitting a far lower number will keep our ticker in top shape.

Walking just 2,337 steps a day reduces the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, say researchers from the University of Lodz, in Poland.

The 2023 study, which was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, also found walking at least 3,867 steps a day started to reduce the risk of dying early from any cause.

However, they also found that the more we walk, the greater the health benefits.

With every 500 to 1,000 extra steps we walk, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease — and any cause — decreases significantly.

Even if people walked as many as 20,000 steps a day, the health benefits continued to increase.

Take blood pressure pills at night  

Many people who take anti-hypertensive medication to lower their blood pressure will pop their pills in the morning.

However, according to a 2019 study by the University of Vigo in Spain, which followed participants over six years, the ones who took their anti-hypertensive medication before they went to bed saw their risk of ‘cardiovascular death’ reduced by 45 per cent, compared to those who took it when they woke up.

That’s because the chance of having a stroke is almost 50 per cent higher between 6am and 12pm, according to Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, and author of Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How It Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health.

‘There’s a rise in circadian-driven blood pressure,’ he said.

‘That’s not a problem for most of us, but if you’re at risk of stroke and you have cardiovascular disease, it’s a dangerous window of time.’

Owning a cat or a dog has been associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease

Owning a cat or a dog has been associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease

Get a pet 

Owning a dog could save your life.

Innumerable studies have found the positive relationship between having a dog or cat and a healthy heart.

Researchers looked at almost 4,000 healthy adults aged 50 plus, of whom just over a third owned a pet, and found that pet ownership was associated with a 31 per cent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t just down to increased exercise from walking a dog as the benefits were largely attributed to owning a cat.

Cat owners were 38 per cent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-cat owners, while dog owners were 18 per cent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-dog owners.

The protective effect of owning a pet was thought to relate to the stress-relieving effects of animal companionship.

Foods that help fight cholesterol, according to a top nutritionist

Registered and sports nutritionist Rob Hobson working with Healthspan Elite on the heart-healthy foods you need on your shopping list this autumn. 

OATS

Oats are high in a soluble fibre called beta-glucan that binds with cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed. Try swapping your usual cereal for porridge, bircher muesli or add oats to breakfast smoothies.

NUTS

Nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds, are rich in monounsaturated fats that help lower LDL (bad) and increase HDL (good), and rich in vitamin E, which helps to protect cells from oxidative damage that can contribute to disease.

SPICES

Early research suggests that coriander seeds may help lower non-LDL cholesterol, while other spices such as turmeric, fenugreek and ginger have been implicated as having cholesterol lowering properties.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has also been found to prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and other conditions in in-vitro studies. If you struggle to add turmeric to your food, Healthspan’s Opti-Turmeric capsules, £11.49, could help.

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Rich in monounsaturated fats which lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol, this oil is packed with compounds such as oleocanthal, which has been shown to reduce harmful inflammation in the body. 

Olive oil also contains plant sterols that compete with cholesterol for absorption helping to lower blood cholesterol levels. Try Ancient Roots Olive Oil at (www.originsdiet.com), straight from the mineral-rich soils of Tuscany and high in ultra-healthy polyphenols.

WINTER ROOT VEGETABLES

As well as non-HDL cholesterol-lowering fibre, sweet potatoes and butternut squash are filled with potassium which is needed to help with fluid balance in the body, which is linked to blood pressure.

LEAFY GREENS

Kale hits the heart health jackpot as it is rich in potassium, magnesium and fibre as well as nitrates that are converted to nitric oxide (NO), which helps dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow.

OILY FISH

Salmon, trout, herring, mackerel and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which can help increase HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, as well as reducing triglycerides in the bloodstream.

SPICES

Early research suggests that coriander seeds may help lower non-LDL cholesterol, while other spices such as turmeric, fenugreek and ginger have been implicated as having cholesterol lowering properties.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has also been found to prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and other conditions in in-vitro studies. If you struggle to add turmeric to your food, Healthspan’s Opti-Turmeric capsules, £11.49, could help.



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