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More than one in four deaths in the UK is caused by heart and circulatory diseases, with coronary heart disease being the UK’s single biggest killer.*

Obesity and sedentary lifestyles can contribute to this, yet simple lifestyle changes can decrease the risk of developing heart disease.

“Heart disease is the UK’s biggest health risk,” says AXA PPP healthcare’s senior nurse case manager, Caroline Exon. “For instance, many women don’t realise that prior to menopause they produce oestrogen, which helps to protect them again heart disease. After menopause, the level of this hormone falls and women therefore are no longer so well protected. This means that post-menopausal women approach the same risk of developing heart disease as men. By following our simple tips below, women and men can lower their risk factors and keep their hearts healthy and beating strongly.”

1. Eat your heart out – Certain foods can help keep your heart healthy. Nuts, beans and fresh fruit and vegetables contain nutrients that give your heart a boost. AXA PPP healthcare’s is a helpful online tool to keep track of healthy food options and correct portions that work together to take care of your heart.

2. Quit smoking – Smokers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as non-smokers. Cutting out this habit helps to lower the risk of developing heart disease. National No Smoking Day on 1 March 2014 could give you the encouragement you need to quit and you can find plenty of help and advice on AXA PPP healthcare’s site: 

3. Get some action – Undertaking cardio exercise only two or three times a week can help reduce the risk of heart problems. If running doesn’t fit into your schedule, everyday tasks can be turned into a workout, for instance: getting off the bus at an earlier stop to walk a little further to your destination; carrying a few more bags of shopping into the house after a grocery run, or walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift. Thirty minutes a day of physical activity doesn’t necessarily have to involve a pricey gym membership. (Remember to consult a member of your local primary health services team for advice before embarking on a new exercise regime.)

4. Stress free is the way to be – Stressful situations, and how you deal with them, can encourage unhealthy behaviours that increase the risk of heart attack. Instead of turning to alcohol or food in stressful situations, learn to identify your stress triggers and replace them with positive activities to maintain strong heart health. Going for a short walk or engaging in relaxing or meditative activities can help prevent stress from becoming overwhelming. An active social life also helps to lessen harmful stress levels.

5. Cut it out – Consumption of certain foods and drinks may be linked to heart problems, and reducing their intake can cut the risk of poor heart health. Salt, sugary drinks, and trans fats are contributors to heart disease so try to avoid processed or fast foods as much as possible.

6. Doctor knows best – Adding a discussion of heart health to a GP visit can help monitor and discover any heart problems. A GP can check blood pressure and cholesterol, and track changes over time – this is especially helpful if you have a family history of heart disease. At the age of 40, everyone is entitled to a Heart Health Assessment or Cardio-vascular Risk Assessment from their NHS GP or practice nurse, so do ask for this to identify any heart health problem such as high cholesterol or other risk factors. Your GP can then help to tailor a personalised heart health plan for you.

AXA PPP healthcare is hosting a Live Q&A on Heart Health on Friday 28 February 2014 from 1pm to 3pm at . AXA PPP’s senior nurse case managers Caroline Exon and Beverley Barnes will be on hand to offer information and support and to answer questions from anyone with concerns about heart disease, heart health and risk factors. Questions can be submitted in advance on .

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