5 Surprise Heart Risks

Heart disease causes almost one in three deaths in the UK each year. We all know a healthy lifestyle helps protect our heart, but watch out for these lesser-known risk factors.

1 YO-YO DIETING

Why the risk?

Women who regain lost weight may end up with worse heart health than before they started dieting, according to new research from Wake Forest University in the US. The study followed 112 obese post-menopausal women who lost an average of 25lbs through diet and exercise. A year later, they’d regained about 70 per cent of the weight they’d lost – and risk factors such as bad cholesterol levels and high blood pressure were, in some cases, higher than before. Make healthy eating and exercise a long-term lifestyle change.

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2 EVERYDAY STRESS

Why the risk?

Long-term stress and anxiety can make you up to 27 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack, according to a recently published 14-year study from Columbia University Medical Centre. The effect of this stress was so extreme, researchers likened it to smoking five cigarettes a day. Another large study at University College London found that work stress alone can raise risk of heart attack by 23 per cent. The solution, of course, is to take steps to keep stress and anxiety levels under control. If you’re genuinely overwhelmed and feel you can’t cope, never suffer in silence: consult your GP in the first instance.

3 R ELATIONSHIP WOES

Why the risk?

Unhappy couples are at greater risk of heart attack or chest pains than those in positive relationships, according to a study of more than 9,000 UK civil servants, reported in Archives of Internal Medicine. Those in miserable marriages were 34 per cent more likely to experience heart problems over a 12-year period. The reason? Lead researcher Roberto De Vogli suggests that replaying negative events in our minds can trigger biological reactions that lead to a heart attack. So that’s one more sound reason not to stick with a partner who makes you sad a day longer than you need to.

4 L OW ‘GOOD’ CHOLESTEROL

Why the risk?

While high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) can greatly increase your risk of heart disease, it’s still important to maintain healthy levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL). Low HDL is the third strongest predictor of heart disease, behind prior coronary problems and age, according to a study of nearly 7,000 people at Indiana University. It’s thought that HDL protects the heart by removing blockages and transporting bad cholesterol back to the liver. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, cutting back on alcohol and replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, can all help raise HDL.

5 URBAN LIVING

Why the risk?

Living near a noisy traffic area may boost your chances of heart problems, according to a recent study reported in the journal PLoS ONE. Researchers claim that each 10 per cent rise in sound volume brings with it a 12 per cent higher risk of heart attack. The reason? It could be due to lack of sleep or increased stress. Obviously, we’re not suggesting you up sticks and move to the countryside – but it’s definitely worth doing all you can to make sure outdoor noise is kept to a minimum, particularly at night.

HELP YOUR HEART

GET CHECKED OUT High blood pressure is a big risk factor, but usually has no symptoms, so get yours measured by your GP.

KEEP MOVING Although you should aim for more, even 10 minutes of gentle exercise a day canmake a difference.

QUIT SMOKING Smokers have nearly twice the risk of heart disease compared to people who havenever smoked.

EAT WELL Cut down on saturated fats and dairy products to keep your weight in check.

CUT BACK ON BOOZE Stay within recommended limits: that’s 14 units per week for women. One 175ml glass of wine is roughly 2.5 units.

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