In addition to leading a physically active life there are several other lifestyle choices that are important in keeping our hearts healthy. Of course this is good advice for everyone, with or without a congenital heart condition. However, if you’re born with a heart condition it is especially important to avoid things that are known to cause cardiovascular disease.
1. Healthy Eating
The food we eat has a big influence on the health of our heart. Following a Mediterranean sytle diet has been linked to a healthier heart.
Mediterranean cuisine varies by region and has a range of definitions, but is largely based on vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, cereal grains, olive oil and oily fish.
You can make your diet more Mediterranean-style by:
- eating plenty of starchy foods, such as wholegrain bread and pasta
- eating plenty of fruit and vegetables
- eating some oily fish
- eating less meat, especially less red meat
- choosing products made from vegetable and plant oils, such as olive oil
The diet is similar to the government's healthy eating advice set out in the Eatwell Plate which shows the foods needed for a balanced, healthy diet.
The Eatwell Plate shows how much you should eat of each food group.
This includes everything you eat during the day, including snacks. So, try to stick to these guidelines:
- Eat foods high in monounsaturated fat and/or omega 3 (oily fish)
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, try and eat at least 5 portions a day
- Avoid adding salt to your foods, as this raises your blood pressure, causing damage to your arteries
- Foods high in fat and sugar aren't good for your heart and arteries
- Choose wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice to get some heart-healthy fibre
- Avoid saturated fats and trans-fats (hydrogenated vegetable oil)
- Base your meals on starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice or potatoes. Choose wholegrain varieties wherever you can, or eat potatoes with their skins on for more fibre.
Healthy eating combined with physical activity will help you maintain a healthy weight.
If you're not sure if you're a healthy weight for your height, ask your GP.
2. Limit Alcohol Intake
It is illegal to drink alcohol in the UK until you are at least 18 years old. This is extended to 21 year olds in America and other countries. Alcohol in moderation does not harm the heart. However, excess alcohol can damage the heart and leads to a high risk of heart rhythm problems (alcohol binges). Alcohol binges are classed are drinking more than the government recommended limits. These state that both men and women should drink no more than 14 units over the course of three days or more. This is the equivalent of a bottle and a half of wine over the course of a week. These rules also say that it's best not to "save up units" and drink them all in one go, and to make sure you have alcohol-free days.
3. Don't smoke
As well as causing many types of cancer, smoking greatly increases the rish of cardiovascular disease. The chemicals in cigarette smoke are known to cause damage to the heart and blood vessels.
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