Easy tips to help you keep your heart healthy – and even age-proofed!

We’re big believers that age is just a number. When it comes to heart health, however, the numbers do matter. The difference, though, is that your actual age and your heart age may not necessarily match. Heart age tests are used in the medical world to assess the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks, strokes and heart failure) based on how you measure up across a range of well-established risk factors. These include blood pressure, BMI and blood cholesterol level.

So, this is one instance when it’s OK to be pro-youth because, naturally, a younger heart is a healthier one. The good news? While turning back the clock on your actual age is impossible, it is possible to trim years off the age of your ticker.

How to make your heart younger

‘The important thing about heart age is that it is eminently possible to manipulate this yourself, by changing your behaviour and risk factors,’ says Professor Richard Schilling, a consultant cardiologist at London Bridge Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK (hcahealthcareuk.co.uk).

Indeed, there’s a wealth of evidence that improving your lifestyle does have a big impact on your heart age, including for people with a family history of heart disease. ‘While you can’t change your genes, you can alter the impact they have on your heart by making sure all of the things you have control of are as gentle on your heart as possible,’ says Professor Schilling. ‘Genes alone don’t determine your fate; the environment that the genes are exposed to can be just as important.’

So, how can we all be a bit more gentle on our hearts and halt the artery-ageing process? Firstly, while new health products and trends are always emerging, Professor Schilling notes that the most important things are still the obvious ones that never change, such as not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, maintaining a healthy weight and having a balanced lifestyle that’s healthy overall. These things are likely to make far more difference than letting the basics slip but popping a superfood supplement every now and then.

So are you ready to ‘beat’ the cardiovascular clock? Here are eight ways to help stay ‘young’ at heart…

What does stress do to your heart?

When it comes to heart health, research suggests stress can play a role. For example, women with higher levels of ‘cumulative stress’ are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, which in turn means a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a recent University of California study, and people with ongoing stress have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal in November. One of the best ways to manage stress is through deep breathing, which can have an almost instant effect on brain neurotransmitters.

TRY THIS: Place your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Breathe in slowly through your nose for up to five seconds, filling your belly with air. Then steadily and slowly breathe out through your mouth, counting to five if you can – it might take practice. Make this a part of your morning routine, for three to five minutes a day.

Lower  your homocysteine levels

The amino acid homocysteine is a key player in poor heart health. ‘It’s a toxic substance made from protein in the diet and is normally detoxified in the body,’ explains nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville (marilynglenville.com). ‘

High levels of homocysteine contribute to the thickening of artery walls, making the blood more likely to clot, damaging the blood vessels and resulting in the build-up of fatty deposits or plaque.’ High levels are sometimes associated with low levels of vitamins B6, B12, folate and folic acid.

TRY THIS: NHP Cardio Support (£25.78, naturalhealthpractice.com) contains key nutrients your body needs to detoxify homocysteine.

Too much sleep is bad for your heart

We’re so often reminded that we’re not getting enough sleep – but too much isn’t good either. People who regularly sleep for eight to nine hours a night have a five per cent higher risk of heart problems, compared with those who get six to eight hours, according to a 2018 study published in the European Heart Journal.

Snoozing for between nine and 10 hours, meanwhile, carries a 17 per cent increased risk, which rises to 41 per cent for those who get more than 10 hours of shuteye a night. It’s not entirely clear how these are linked, but aiming to keep steady sleep patterns is a good idea.

A health benefit of saunas!

A steamy sauna can do far more than de-clog those pores and soothe frazzled nerves – it could help boost your heart health. People who have four to seven sauna sessions a week are around a quarter less likely to die from heart-related causes than people who take one weekly sauna visit, according to a study published in the BMC Medicine journal in November, 2018.

Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland tracked 1,688 men and women aged over 50 for 15 years and reported that the effects of regular sauna sessions were comparable with taking low-to-moderate intensity exercise. Of course, saunas are much more of a normal part of day-to-day life in Scandinavian countries. Maybe it’s time to follow suit!

How does the menopause affect your heart?

Approaching or going through menopause? Keeping up extra healthy habits during this life phase could help keep your heart young. You see, women’s risk of cardiovascular disease generally increases after menopause, due to falling oestrogen levels. The hormone helps protect the blood vessels, warding off atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries due to a build-up of plaque – a major heart disease risk). Once oestrogen levels drop, this process tends to speed up.

But women who have healthier lifestyles during midlife could offset the acceleration of atherosclerosis, according to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in late 2018, which followed women aged 42-52 for a period of 10 years.

Take pine supplements

A supplement extracted from French maritime pine trees, ‘Pycnogenol (£19.99, hollandandbarrett.com) contains a host of anti-ageing properties thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content,’ says natural health physician Dr Fred Pescatore.

‘Clinical studies demonstrate the efficacy of pycnogenol for keeping cardiovascular problems at bay. It helps slow the internal ageing of your organs and blood vessels and tackles heart health in three key areas: circulation, blood pressure and cholesterol.’

Pull on your walking boots

Is there no end to the wonders of walking? This low-impact activity is one of the simplest and most accessible forms of exercise going – and middle-aged and older women who walk regularly are 35 per cent less likely to develop heart failure, according to a study published in September 2018, in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure.

The exercise habits of more than 137,000 women aged 50-79 were tracked, with a follow-up 14 years later to see how their health had fared. So whether it’s walking to work, pulling on your trainers to pound the pavements during your lunchbreak, or lacing up those boots for a weekend hike – a younger heart could be a (regular) walk away!

Spend more time in the countryside

Who doesn’t love a getaway in the great outdoors? And it could help towards those heart health goals too. Experts now recognise that air pollution in busy towns and cities is a major threat. So, if being a bit more outdoorsy is on your wish-list, what are you waiting for? Get out into the countryside and give your ticker and cheeks a healthy glow!