Fact File: Heart Disease & Stroke Risk

by Jadwiga O'Brien on April 25, 2011

Heart Health Heart Disease: In Simple Terms

Heart disease is a general term used to describe a number of diseases affecting the heart and the blood vessels connected to it. As we all know, the heart is one of the most hard-working organs, constantly pumping blood around our bodies. Any damage that happens to our hearts can cause long term health complications or even be fatal.

A stroke is a loss in brain function due to an interruption in the blood supply to it. While a heart attack happens when blood can’t get to the heart, a stroke happens when blood can’t get to the brain.

How does it affect us?

According to the WHO, cardiovascular diseases are responsible for more deaths globally than any other cause. They also estimate that behavioural risk factors are responsible for 80% of cases. This means that up to 80% of cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes.

  • Each year, on average, cardiovascular disease is responsible for over 10,000 deaths in Ireland.
  • In 2007, cardiovascular disease was responsible for over 193,000 in the UK.
  • In 2004, cardiovascular disease was responsible for over 17 million deaths worldwide.

If 80% of the 17 million deaths had been prevented, over 13 million lives could have been saved.

Two of the key lifestyle changes to reduce your risk for heart disease are; eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and being physically active.

Eat Well

Some tips of eating well in order to prevent heart disease include;

  • Eating a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Eating nuts and seeds e.g. linseed, walnuts which are high in omega-3.
  • Eating oily fish e.g. mackerel, salmon (also high in omega-3).
  • Eating whole grains e.g. whole grain bread, whole grain pasta.
  • Avoiding excess saturated fats e.g. animal and dairy fat
  • Avoiding trans fats – hard margarines, and any product containing "hydrogenated vegetable oil" or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil"
  • Limiting your intake of salt to one teaspoon. Check food labels for salt content. Anything at 1.5g or more per 100g in a product is too much.

Be Active

In 2002, the WHO estimated that 22% of all cases of coronary heart disease were due to physical inactivity.

Being overweight, as well as being physically inactive are significant risk factors for developing heart disease. You can reduce your risk by making sure you get at least 30mins of physical activity each day. Also, try to get your kids to be active for at least 60mins.

For fun, free, physical activity ideas for kids, click here.

Other tips to reduce heart disease risk include:

  • Give up smoking.
  • Make sure you get 7hrs sleep each night (but no more than 9).
  • Drink more water. Good hydration keeps blood flowing and can help to prevent clots.
  • Take a break. Stress can have a big influence on your risk for heart disease.
  • Spend time with your dog! Studies have found that running around with Rover can help you to be more active and reduce stress.

How do you ensure that your heart stays healthy? Have you, or your family had any heart problems that have changed your outlook on life and health? Why not share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments box below.

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