Stress, an unbalanced diet or not enough exercise: there are many causes of heart disease. However, it is never too late to change your own lifestyle. We will show you how.
There are of course some things over which you don’t have any influence yourself, including your age, gender and family medical history, but other than that, it is up to you to keep your heart in good shape and in doing so prevent cardiovascular complaints. You just have to start somewhere:
even if you exercise just a little bit more as part of your daily routine, this will already have a positive effect on the health of your heart because exercise helps to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol within a healthy range. It thus lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. The first thing Wendy Stranges from the Swiss Heart Foundation advises people to do is to get more exercise, for example by getting off two or three bus stops before your destination and walking the rest of the way. “It doesn’t have to be a marathon,” says Stranges. “You can start by making small changes to your daily routine; these will already have a significant impact.”
The same goes for your diet: although you should have a balanced diet, the new regime shouldn’t be a nuisance. Everyone needs to find out what suits them best: perhaps you would prefer to eat less than the recommended amount of fish but snack on more nuts instead and use rapeseed oil or olive oil for cooking. These foods also contain valuable fats. “You only stick at something in the long term if you also get some joy out of the change,” says Wendy Stranges.
Put our tips to the test – but don’t get annoyed if you don’t enjoy them all. Anger only causes stress which in turn can strain the heart.
Smoking is the biggest risk factor for a heart attack. As early as one year after stopping to consume nicotine, the risk of getting cardiovascular disease drops by 50%. This also applies to former chain smokers. 15 years after smoking the last cigarette, the risk drops to that of non-smokers.
Fatty and industrially processed foods are not beneficial. Instead, you should eat more Mediterranean foods – and heed the following tips.
Eat five daily palm-sized portions of raw and cooked fruit and vegetables – and in different colours. This will give you the necessary amount of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibres. Plan to have two meat-free days per week.
Eat products containing cereals every day. You should give preference to wholemeal products, e.g. wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and unsweetened cereals, or potatoes.
Eat a small handful of unsalted nuts, seeds and kernels every day. Among other things, they contain valuable fats and dietary fibres.
Use one to two tablespoons of vegetable oils every day, at least half of which should be rapeseed oil. Use olive oil for both cold and hot dishes. Our local rapeseed oil is also perfectly suited to preparing cold food.
Meat doesn’t have to be served every day. If you eat meat, opt for low-fat (i.e. lean) cuts.
Salmon and other fatty fish help to protect the heart. For that reason, you should consume a fish dish once to twice a week. Choose fish from sustainable fishing grounds (organic certification for farmed fish and the MSC certification mark for wild fish).
Drink 1.5 litres a day of unsweetened beverages like tap water, mineral water, herbal tea or fruit tea. Drinking a glass of red wine with a meal is fine. The polyphenols contained therein have a protective effect on the vessels. However, don’t drink alcohol every day to prevent addiction.
By engaging in sport, we can strengthen circulation and prevent cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, the body reduces stress hormones when we exercise.
Do exercise which makes your pulse race and causes you to breathe faster. Do medium intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes per day or 2.5 hours per week. You should also add exercise to your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Just one daily fast walk strengthens the heart muscle.
Dancing, gardening or housework stimulate circulation: 30 minutes of gardening is about as strenuous as 30 minutes of cycling. More information on the calories burned by doing specific activities is available on the website of the Swiss Heart Foundation:
Our heart is a muscle. Regular endurance training strengthens it and makes it more effective. Hiking, swimming and cycling are good endurance sports. You should still be able to speak while performing the activity.
During weight training or strength training, both the body’s oxygen consumption and muscle circulation increase. The training also activates the metabolism. This has a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels.
With dancing, T’ai Chi, yoga or gymnastics, you train balance, mobility and muscle strength at the same time. Such forms of training, which involve honing various skills, are advisable.
Walking in the forest does you good. Studies have shown that spending time in the forest helps to reduce high blood pressure and stress.
A bit of a hectic pace or an adrenaline rush from time to time won’t make you get heart disease. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is harmful. The body needs relaxation.
Seven to nine hours of sleep per night are advisable for adults. A lack of sleep contributes to high blood pressure, which in turn is one of the most important risk factors for heart disease.
Reduce stress by clarifying any unspoken issues in relationships. Although this initially takes courage, it keeps you healthy.
Ensure you have a healthy work-life balance. Cardiovascular disease can be associated with mental stress. Friends and family can help you to relax and unwind.
Meditation or breathing exercises help to reduce stress. However, you can also relax by listening to/playing music or exercising. Pay attention to what does you good.
What is the real meaning of life? Ask yourself if you are satisfied with your current life situation. Ideologies, belief and feelings of deep appreciation have a decisive effect on our health.
Make time for yourself and your partner. Go out. Go on an excursion. Or try something new – perhaps a dance class?
Consciously put your mobile phone or tablet to one side, for example after work. Leave it at home at the weekend sometimes – and don’t read any work e-mails while on holiday.
Charlotte Weidmann Schneider (BSc Dietitian, Swiss Association of Registered Dietitians [SVDE]) is a nutrition specialist at the Swiss Society for Nutrition SSN. She is an expert in combining delicious nutrition with a balanced diet at work, home or when exercising. Charlotte Weidmann Schneider assisted the editorial team with this article in an advisory and editorial capacity.
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