September 29 marks World Heart Day 2018, which aims to encourage everyone to think about how they might be able to look after their heart better. Here we round up some of the recent research from the past year which has found that making certain lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and improve heart health.
Keep a regular sleep schedule
A study by researchers at Duke Health and the Duke Clinical Research Institute published this month found that going to bed and waking up at the same time each day could have a positive effect on heart health. After tracking 1,978 older adults the team found that those with irregular sleep patterns were more likely to be obese, have higher blood sugar, higher blood pressure, and a higher projected risk of having a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years than those who stuck to a regular bed and wake time. They were also more likely to report depression and stress, psychological factors also linked with heart health.
The link between smoking and heart disease is already documented, but a new large-scale US study has found comparable risk with vaping, with use of e-cigarettes associated with nearly double the risk of a heart attack compared to those who have never used them and the risk even greater for those who smoke both e-cigs and conventional tobacco cigarettes. However, the study, with over 69,000 participants, also suggested that there appears to be no increased risk of a heart attack for former or sometimes e-cigarette users, hopefully encouraging news for those who want to kick the habit.
Reduce exposure to heavy metals
UK research has found that even low exposure to heavy metals in the environment could significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Researchers at the University of Cambridge reviewed 37 studies involving almost 350,000 participants to find that arsenic, lead, cadmium, and copper were significantly associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease even at low doses, with lead and cadmium also associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke. The team noted that people should not be overly worried but that using environmentally-friendly water filters and rinsing rice and vegetables before cooking can help to reduce exposure to the heavy metals in the home.
Pay attention to your diet
Although a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and nuts in moderation has long been recommended for heart health, a US review published in July investigated some recent food trends and their effect on cardiovascular health. Legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, and soybeans, black and green tea and coffee all got the green light, but the researchers recommended avoiding added sugars, including processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, and advised a limited intake of both low-fat dairy and alcohol as evidence is currently mixed as to effects on health.
Turn up the temperature
UK researchers have found that keeping a room warm could help lower blood pressure, an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. After comparing blood pressure readings of 4,659 participants with room temperature readings in the home, the researchers found that every 1°C decrease in indoor temperature was associated with a rise of 0.48 mmHg in systolic blood pressure and 0.45 mmHg in diastolic blood pressure. The team now suggest that keeping living rooms at at least 21°C could be advisable for general health.