Valentine’s Day has many of us thinking of matters of the heart, but it might be a good time to consider your heart health and assess how healthy your heart actually is.
While heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death of men and women in Ireland, and worldwide, warning signs are not always obvious.
Prioritise your heart, and the hearts of your loved ones, this Valentine’s Day, by being proactive about your heart health and supporting your loved ones to do the same.
Do you know your numbers? If you don’t know any of the readings below, we encourage you to make an appointment with your GP to get informed and take control of your heart health.
Blood Pressure: The ideal is 140/90 mmHg or below. Higher levels increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Total Cholesterol: Levels of five or above increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Weight: Carrying excess weight can increase your risk of heart disease. Did you know that if your Body Mass Index (BMI) is above 25, losing 5-10% of your starting weight can reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol?
Waist Size: Carrying most of our weight around our middle can increase our risk of heart disease and stroke. For men, aim for a waist circumference of less than 94cm, and for women, aim for less than 80cm. Note – measure about an inch above your belly button.
80% of Heart Disease and Stroke Can Be Prevented
A risk factor is anything that raises a person’s chance of developing heart disease and stroke. There are two types of risk factors, those you cannot change, e.g. age and family history, and thankfully those you can change, e.g. blood pressure, cholesterol and physical activity. All of the risk factors above are in our control and 80% of heart disease and stroke can be prevented by being proactive and making the necessary lifestyle changes.
Listen To Your Heart
If you would like more information about risk factors or support on taking care of your heart health, Croí’s FREE telephone helpline, Heartlink West, is live weekdays from 9 am – 5:30 pm on 091 544310. When you call, you will be connected with one of our Cardiac Nurse Specialists. Alternatively, you can email the Croí Health Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or join our weekly Heartlink West Virtual Chats.
While Christmas is an enjoyable time, there’s no doubt that food is a central component. This can make it a challenging time if you struggle around food or have a difficult relationship with foods. Learning to eat more mindfully and intuitively can help you feel more in control around food, feel less guilt about food choices and is a valuable skill to practice throughout the year, not just at Christmas. Learning to eat mindfully takes time, however, here are our top tips for getting started:
- Eat foods that make you feel good – physically and mentally. For some people, this could be a creamy hot chocolate while watching your favourite Christmas movie or a mince pie with a friend. These foods might nourish our mind and our mood. Other times you might crave a piece of fruit, an extra helping of veg with your dinner or an alcohol-free day because you feel like your body is craving this. There are no ‘good or bad’ foods, just food. Same as we are not ‘good or bad’ depending on the foods we eat. Removing feelings of shame or guilt around food gives us so much more freedom and ultimately, we are more likely to choose a balanced diet.
- Check in with your hunger and fullness signals. Sometimes we can become out of touch with our hunger and fullness signals and not trust ourselves to know when we are hungry or full. This can often be a result of years of dieting, following restrictive meal plans and being told exactly what and when to eat. No wonder we can be scared to trust ourselves. However, we can learn to connect with these signals again. You can do this by regularly using the hunger scale (right). Ideally you would like to be around a 4 before a meal and 6 after a meal. Look out for hunger signals like stomach grumbling, constant thoughts about food, low energy levels, feeling faint or irritable. It’s also important to check in with your fullness signals, particularly at Christmas when we tend to be surrounded by endless supplies of food. We can override the feeling of fullness and intentionally eat more, sometimes to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. Check in with yourself while you are eating and if you’re starting to feel satisfied, stop. You an always come back and finish the meal later if you are still hungry.
- Check in with your mood. If you are craving something to eat, but you don’t actually feel hungry, check to see if this is more of an emotional hunger rather than a physical hunger. Often, we crave certain foods in response to emotions such as stress, boredom, loneliness, tiredness etc. Ask yourself ‘What emotion am I feeding?’. Over time this helps us to separate physical and emotional hunger and can help us to learn other ways of coping with our emotions. Some things that can help would be to include some gentle movement of exercise, getting stuck into your favourite hobby or taking 10 minutes to practice some mindfulness.
- Ditch the weighing scales. Your value is not measured by a number on the scales. Your health cannot be measured by a number on the scales. If, like a lot of people I work with, you find the scales can affect your mood and your behaviours then get rid of it. Focus on measuring your progress in other ways – are you noticing an improvement in your mood, energy levels, sleep, fitness? Do you feel like you are developing a better routine and healthier habits? Have you noticed improvements in your blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes control? These are the ways you should measure your progress, not by a number on a weighing scales.
- Don’t plan to start a diet in January. You may be familiar with the cycle – restrict in November, go all out in December, and then come January 1st clear out the cupboards and go cold turkey. Only to eventually fall back into old habits after a few weeks. This approach doesn’t work long term. Finding a way of eating and exercising that is sustainable, that doesn’t restrict foods and doesn’t make us feel guilty or ashamed when we inevitably go ‘off plan’ is a much healthier and more effective approach. Why not try set goals that are realistic and achievable? For example, aim to start eating 3 meals per day and not skipping lunch, try to get one less takeaway per week and aim to go for at least 3 half hour walks each week. These are much more realistic goals than ones like saying you will cut out all sweets, chocolate, takeaways, cook all meals from scratch and exercise every day for the next year. Don’t set yourself up to fail.
Written by Aisling Harris, Croí Cardiac
and Weight Management Dietitian
Warm-up this Winter with a bowl of porridge and delicious toppings!
Did you know that porridge has been shown to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure? It’s also packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals – making it a perfect, heart healthy breakfast.
Watch the video below where Croí Dietitian, Aisling, shares her favourite porridge toppings.
Croí, the heart and stroke charity, invites Roscommon Farmers to a special World Heart Day webinar on Thursday, September 30th from 7-8pm using Zoom. The webinar will focus on how you can reduce your risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, stress and more. Following the webinar, registrants will have the opportunity to apply to join a free 8-week lifestyle change programme with the Croí Health Team. Register now at www.croi.ie/roscommonfarmers.
The life of a farmer is often busy, active and unpredictable, and we can see the impact of this demanding lifestyle on farmers’ risk for developing heart disease and stroke. Startlingly, almost 50% of Irish farmers have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and 86% are overweight or are living with obesity. Farmers have historically been seen as a physically active group, but daily “sitting time” for farmers can be as high as 8+ hours.
The good news is that with small lifestyle changes to things like eating habits and exercise, life-changing improvements can be made, reducing your risk for heart disease and stroke. “Up to 80% of heart disease can be prevented by modifying risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking. The more risk factors you have, the more likely it is that you will develop heart disease and stroke. We want you to focus on the risk factors you can change, because even if you have a family history, there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk,” says Dr. Lisa Hynes.
Webinar speakers include Dr. Lisa Hynes, Health Psychologist and Head of Health Programmes at Croí; Aisling Harris, Cardiac and Weight Management Dietitian; and Zoe McCrudden, Cardiovascular Nurse Specialist. All participants will receive a free e-copy of Croí’s new Healthy Living Workbook that will help guide them in making the changes that are right for them.
Register now and submit your questions for the experts at www.croi.ie/roscommonfarmers, or call Croí on 091-544310. Don’t miss this special event – know your risk of developing heart disease or stroke and make heart healthy changes!
In addition, Croí has developed special resources to support Roscommon farmers on their journey to better heart health. Check out our special webpage at www.croi.ie/roscommonfarmers and learn how you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease or stroke.