Professor James Scott explains how we can all reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.
It seems everything becomes heart-shaped around Valentine’s Day, but your real heart – the organ responsible for pumping blood around your body – needs more than a greeting card and a bouquet of roses to stay healthy.
Heart disease is known as ‘the silent killer’ with good reason: there are very few physical warning signs that might indicate a problem. The good news is that by being aware of the risk factors – for which you can test at London Medical – and making positive lifestyle choices to control them, you’ll be less likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems in the future.
We spoke to Professor James Scott, Consultant Physician at London Medical and Professor of Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, about the key things we all need to know to help prevent the onset of heart disease.
1. Don’t smoke
The negative effects of smoking on one’s health will be news to no one. Cigarettes can increase the risk of cancer, heart attacks, stroke and damage to the lungs, as well as cause heart disease. “Absolutely you shouldn’t smoke, because it makes [all] the other risk factors worse,” Professor Scott says.
2. Check your cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the liver and is essential for the body to function normally. There are two kinds, HDL and LDL, but if the latter is too high, your risk of heart disease is increased because excess can build up in the artery walls causing them to narrow.
Cholesterol is present in some foods, but Professor Scott says that a change in your diet will only reduce your cholesterol by around 5 per cent. “If your LDL cholesterol is high, you need medication. And unfortunately, that usually means statins,” he explains.
3. Check your blood pressure
High blood pressure is known as hypertension and can put a strain on all the other organs, including the heart. It is measured with a simple non-invasive test in which a cuff is wrapped around the upper arm and inflated.
“You should have normal blood pressure,” says Professor Scott. “If it’s not normal, you need medication.”
4. Stick to a healthy diet
The food you eat can have an important impact on your heart health. “A healthy diet would be low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables,” Professor Scott says. Trade fatty meats for omega 3-rich fish like salmon and mackerel, and limit your intake of salt.
5. Do regular exercise
Regular exercise can help reduce your risk of heart disease, as well as stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. It also benefits the mind, helping stave off depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Your main focus should be regular aerobic exercise, and stretches and strengthening exercises for your body,” says Professor Scott. Try jogging, cycling or swimming, and use incentives to help sustain the habit.
6. Train your brain
“Use your brain to keep it trained and healthy – it’s a bit like training a muscle,” says Professor Scott. “It helps you focus on goals in relation to the other five things [outlined above].”
Trying new activities, challenging your memory and learning something new can all help keep your brain healthy.
A personal in-depth assessment of your health
Effective heart disease prevention begins with risk assessment. At London Medical, we have been developing accurate, non-invasive ways to assess the condition of your arteries since we started 25 years ago. Today, we’re the only private clinic offering such a comprehensive risk assessment for future heart disease, while minimising exposure to contrast or radiation through imaging studies.
In addition to checking your cholesterol, we offer a range of other tests that help accurately assess your cardiovascular risk, some of them unique to London Medical. These include an ultrasound of your carotid arteries to measure lining thickness and the size of plaques, and a coronary artery calcium score, used in conjunction with blood tests for advanced lipoprotein analysis.
Once we have an accurate picture of your heart’s current state of health, we can help you protect it through our signature joined-up approach to healthcare.