Keeping your heart healthy

Woman smiling and checking her blood pressure

We all know the key role our heart plays in keeping us alive. It pumps blood (carrying nutrients like oxygen) to all parts of your body, helping everything work the way it should1. But sometimes we forget to make it a priority to maintain its health and strength. 

We all know the key role our heart plays in keeping us alive. It pumps blood (carrying nutrients like oxygen) to all parts of your body, helping everything work the way it should1. But sometimes we forget to make it a priority to maintain its health and strength.

Dr Laura Sheldrake, one of our experts at Smart Health is here to share her know-how on all things heart – the role of stress, food, exercise and her insight on tech innovations too. So let’s talk about the small things you can do to keep your heart well.


What are some of the common myths we hear about heart health… and the truth behind them?

Here’s my top three for you − they’re ones I hear a lot about in my day-to-day work as a GP.

Myth one: heart disease only affects older people. Well I’m here to tell you that’s not the reality. Whatever age you are, there’s many things that can cause us to have problems with our heart. Its things like high blood pressure, not doing enough physical activity, smoking, eating too much or too little.

Myth two: high cholesterol’s the only thing that gives us heart trouble. Really, cholesterol’s just one part of the puzzle and there’s other factors to consider too. Yes − getting those levels down is important, but your lifestyle, genetics and overall health play a role in keeping you in tip-top condition too.

Myth three: it only affects people who are overweight. Again just like cholesterol, weight’s one thing that contributes to how healthy our hearts are. Keeping half an eye on the scales might be a wise idea even if you’re a healthy weight, because risks like blood pressure can start to creep in and contribute to heart issues.


Is there a way for people to understand their heart health? Does technology play a role here?

Get checked − it’s as simple as that. Whether that’s through your GP, one of the NHS’s screening programmes or by chatting to us here at Smart Health. Looking at blood pressure, cholesterol and our blood sugar levels helps us understand how well our heart’s doing. And yes, tech’s playing an even bigger role in doing that too. We have a great variety of wearable fitness trackers and apps on our phones – they’re incredible at tracking our physical activity, heart rate, sleep patterns… you name it. There’s so much we can learn from the data they churn out on a daily basis.


How important is exercise in keeping our heart healthy?

Getting active is one of the most important things we can do − whatever form that looks like for you. Workouts that raise our heart rate (known as aerobic exercise) like brisk walking, cycling and swimming are great choices.

Now I know plenty of us out there are leading busy lives and finding time to fit in more exercise can be challenging. So start with small changes − things like taking the stairs instead of the lift or walking rather than using the car.


What about diet?

The old saying here is true − you are what you eat. There’s lots of different food you can look to for a heart-healthy diet, so here’s a few examples for you:

  • Fruit and veg: berries, leafy greens and peppers
  • Wholegrains: quinoa, brown rice and brown bread
  • Lean protein: skinless chicken breasts, salmon and lentils
  • Healthy fat: avocados, olive oil and nuts
  • Low-fat dairy: greek yogurt, skimmed milk and low-fat cheese

My other top tips would be to drink plenty of water or sugar-free drinks (tea and coffee does count), limit the amount of saturated fat you eat (found in fried and fatty foods) and cut down on how much salt you have. Just like with exercise, start small − little swaps to the food you normally eat can form habits that are much more likely to last. Who knows − you might even some find some new heart-healthy favourites.


Stress is a big thing for heart health too − right? Are there any tips on how to reduce it?

You’re absolutely right. When stress becomes constant (we call it chronic stress), it can really start to affect how well your heart works. Managing it looks different for everyone, but some of the things I usually advise are relaxation techniques, mindfulness and getting plenty of sleep − find what works for you.


And finally − what one thing do you want people to remember about their heart health?

To remember that small changes can make a big impact over time.



1 How your heart works, British Heart Foundation, August 2021 (last accessed 31/01/2023)


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